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THE PAPAL VISIT : ON THE PAPAL ROUTE : Mother in Search of a Miracle : Pope's Visit Ends on a Last Act of Faith

September 20, 1987|PETE KING | Times Staff Writer

DETROIT — And in his last minute in the United States, Pope John Paul II was presented with one more believer desperate for a miracle. . . .

The man's name was Jim DeMuth, and he was wheeled on a gurney onto the Tarmac at Detroit's Metropolitan Airport. Friends and his mother held down his writhing body; in his hands he gripped two pieces of leather--the better, his mother said, to keep his limbs under control.

DeMuth was born 51 years ago with cerebral palsy, a condition that has deprived him of the ability to control any of his body's motor functions, including speech. He talks in a kind of modulated groan that only his mother can interpret.

And so it was through her that he explained his mission:

"He has seen the Pope on TV and he thinks he is great," Ardena DeMuth, 83, said after leaning over to hear the sounds. "He knows the Pope is praying for him."

Spent Life Caring for Son

A widow, Mrs. DeMuth has spent her life caring for the first of her two sons--the man she still calls "Jimmy."

With the help of a few family friends, she had brought her son from their home in Finley, Ohio, to the foot of the small stage where the Pope and Vice President George Bush were to deliver speeches before John Paul's departure from the United States.

Arrangements had been made through sympathetic priests for Bush--and perhaps the Pope--to meet for a few minutes with DeMuth; the mother said her plan was to wheel Jimmy into the Pope's path. And hope for a miracle.

"You never know what God can do," she said, tears already forming in her eyes an hour before John Paul's scheduled arrival. "I don't ever give up and I tell him, 'Don't give up.' I tell him, 'Maybe the Good Lord will do something for you yet.' But we believe whatever God wills is our will. You have to think that way."

She has had a lot of practice.

Other Attempts

Mrs. DeMuth recalled other attempts at miracles--of schoolchildren ushered into Jimmy's room to sing prayers, of special visitations by nuns. One successful miracle came in the form of the laywoman who taught DeMuth how to speak well enough that his mother could understand him, and that was a blessing beyond description.

Communication with her son, the stooped and white-haired woman said proudly, showed that his mind "is fine. It is only his body that betrays him."

"You bet it tests your faith," she said. "But you have to overcome it and understand that it's God's will."

Still, she said she had faith that the Pope could change things--make them better--if only he would give her son "one of his special blessings."

And so the waiting began. . . .

Just before the Pope's 8 p.m. arrival, Jimmy DeMuth and his entourage were moved to the side of the stage where a U.S. Navy band was playing Sousa marches, and there they stayed through the ceremonies of arrival.

Concluded His Trip

John Paul II and Bush exchanged greetings at a nearby aircraft hangar and then the pontiff, resplendent in his usual white cassock, moved to the stage where he spoke again against birth control, and concluded his visit to the United States with a final benediction.

"My final prayer," he said, "is this: That God will bless America so that she may increasingly become and truly be and long remain one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

"May God bless you all.

"God bless America!"

He turned from the stage with a last regal wave and started immediately toward the waiting 747. But Vatican officials and Secret Service men managed to change his course momentarily, circling him around a line of police dignitaries--the last hands to be shaken in the United States--to the spot where the trembling, groaning man waited with his mother.

Someone explained the situation, and the mother's plea.

Sign of the Cross

John Paul II nodded. The white-capped head bent low, and the right hand traced the sign of the cross on the man's forehead and pressed a gift--a rosary--into his hand. Some words were said, and there was a moan of reply, but neither was fully audible.

And then the Pope, and his airplane, were gone.

"What did he say?" Mrs. DeMuth was asked.

"He said, 'God Bless You, Jimmy.' "

"And what did Jimmy say?"

"He said, 'I love you, John Paul.' "

And was that the miracle she had hoped for?

Mrs. DeMuth thought about it.

"A partial one," she said at last. "And, who knows, maybe someday we'll get a complete one. You just . . . live from day to day."

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