In the largest demonstration against the policies of Pope John Paul II during his U.S. trip, protesting gays, lesbians, feminists and atheists, estimated by police to number 200, combined lightheartedness with passionate anger in a candlelight rally on the south side of Los Angeles City Hall on Tuesday night.
Their picket signs proclaimed, "God Loves Those Who Help Themselves; Use Condoms" and "Balance the Budget; Tax Churches." They chanted, "We are everywhere." One man wore a black nun's habit and a gauze veil.
"People are angry, very angry. We're all being oppressed by the Pope's views," said Ann Marie Capuzzi, co-chairperson of the Greet the Pope Committee, a coalition of 23 organizations that sponsored the event. "But you have to try and keep it light. You have to keep going."
The committee put together the rally to denounce the Pope's "attempts to limit our basic human rights and civil liberties," Capuzzi said. Speakers denounced John Paul's stand against homosexuality, birth control and abortion, as well as the public cost of his trip.
"How many homeless people could have been sheltered for the money spent this week?" said Jean Conger, a lesbian activist.
Throughout the rally, three men holding huge yellow and red banners with fundamentalist slogans booed the speakers.
"We are here to tell these people that their problem is not the Pope, the problem is their sin," one intoned.
Soon afterward, blowing whistles, waving banners and carrying lighted tapers, the protesters set off to march as close to St. Vibiana's Cathedral as they could get, given the heavy security, in hopes that the Pope would hear them.
The rally followed a day of scattered demonstrations set off by the Pope's arrival.
AIDS education volunteers distributed hundreds of condoms at two Catholic high schools west of downtown, amusing students and dismaying teachers. Feminists nailed a women's bill of rights to Catholic church doors in West Covina.
Children of Holocaust survivors criticized the Pope in Universal City for his June meeting with Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, who is accused of helping the Nazis deport Jews from Greece.
In support of the Pope's strong stand against abortion, about 35 anti-abortion activists carried picket signs, clutched banners and sang hymns outside a clinic near USC. But they failed in their stated goal of preventing abortions from being performed.
Nearly three hours before the Pope's Shepherd 1 landed in Los Angeles, volunteers stood by Loyola High School, welcoming students to early classes with a leaflet about acquired immune deficiency syndrome, a packaged condom taped to each brochure. The distributors said they are concerned about church statements that advocating use of condoms would encourage promiscuity and homosexuality.
Most students reacted playfully. One peered at the condom label and pronounced it "a good brand." Another filled his sample with air and was soon bouncing a balloon across the lawn.
Other protesters were stationed at the HER Medical Clinic, target of the We Will Stand Up campaign, which has mailed letters to abortion centers in the cities along the Pope's route asking a halt to abortions during the religious leader's stay.
Pro-choice volunteers who ushered patients past about 35 activists holding signs with slogans like "Dead Child Inside" and "No Abortions Here Today."
Clinic nurse practitioner Valerie Blackler said six abortions had been performed by early afternoon.