SAN FRANCISCO — Pope John Paul II, moving up the California coast Thursday to Monterey and San Francisco, urged growers to accept farm workers' rights to unionize, comforted AIDS patients and encouraged nuns, monks and religious-order priests to remain faithful to their traditional ascetic vows.
After flying out of Los Angeles on the eighth day of his 10-day pastoral visit to United States, the Pope conducted Mass at the Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey. Speaking from a platform made of hundreds of vegetable crates, John Paul delivered a paean to the dignity of work, and agricultural work in particular.
He appealed to "landowners, growers and others in positions of power to respect the just claims of their brothers and sisters who work the land."
"These claims include the right to share in decisions concerning their services and the right to free association with a view to social, cultural and economic advancement," the pontiff told a smaller than expected crowd of 50,000.
The Catholic Church has long backed the United Farm Workers union in the Salinas Valley.
The Pope spoke of the richness of American agriculture, "a major success story." But he also noted with sadness "that recently thousands of American farmers have been introduced to poverty and indebtedness. Many have lost their homes and their way of life. . . . On an even wider scale is heard the voice of the poor, who are bewildered in a land of plenty and still experience the pangs of hunger."
His audience--far smaller than the 100,000 predicted by some church officials--sat on a hillside divided by thousands of potted red petunias that cut a swathto the hill's top, where a 150-foot-high metal scaffolding cross was covered with white fabric.
Doris Consier, a 54-year-old single woman and Salinas house cleaner, said she attended because she is struggling. "Things are getting worse and worse," she said. "Hard work. No benefits. I came here because I needed something. When you're all by yourself you need someone and all the good men are taken. So I needed the feeling, the feeling of religion. I need that right now. I brought a rug to sit on, a blanket to wrap in, some food to eat, some juice to drink. And I brought my spirit. I feel closer to God than I ever have before."
The Pope's homily was delivered in English, even though many in the audience spoke only Spanish. Still, the pontiff's presence seemed to be enough for some. "What we don't understand we hear in our hearts," Jesus Correa, a 48-year-old farm worker, said in Spanish.
After the Mass the Pope traveled to the mission at nearby Carmel, where he praised Father Junipero Serra, the Franciscan who founded the California missions. A longstanding campaign to have Serra beatified, the penultimate step to sainthood, remained incomplete when the pontiff began his current U.S. pilgrimage, disappointing local Catholics who had hoped the beatification would take place here Thursday.
Serra is a controversial figure whose critics contend that he and other Franciscans whipped and otherwise mistreated Indians and crushed the native culture.
As he did in Phoenix on Monday at a gathering of Catholic Indians, the Pope defended Serra's record.
Less than a mile from the mission--the closest that law enforcement officials would permit them--about 150 Indians and their supporters gathered "to tell the world of the brutality that existed against our people in the missions of California," according to spokesman Anthony Miranda, tribal chairman of the Coastanoan Band of Carmel Mission Indians.
The Pope then left for San Francisco, where he viewed the Golden Gate Bridge and rode in a 1.8-mile motorcade that attracted a crowd estimated by police at 25,000. Officials had predicted 1.3 million.
Also in evidence were an estimated 8,000 demonstrators--by far the greatest mass of protesters of John Paul's visit.
San Francisco's official welcoming ceremony at the Mission Dolores basilica provided the most dramatic moments of the day, as the pontiff shook hands with several AIDS patients and gave them his blessing. He hugged tightly to his chest 4-year-old Brendan O'Rourke of San Francisco, who contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion.
"God loves you all, without distinction, without limit," John Paul said.
The protest took on an only-in-San Francisco flavor. Strident and bitter statements from feminists and gays were tempered with biting humor and street theater.
Lisa, a self-described "recovering Catholic," wore a mock maternity dress, carried three baby dolls and had written on an apron the words: "My uterus, property of the Vatican."
Although merchants in the area had protected their plate-glass windows with plywood for fear of trouble, the demonstration remained peaceful.
Later, in a meeting with Roman Catholic sisters, brothers and religious order priests, John Paul told them not to be discouraged by their numbers. New members will be found to fill the void if the church's traditional ascetic vows are followed, he said.