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Pope Presses U.S. to Aid Poor, Preserve Family : Religion: The pontiff salutes nation's power, wealth. But such affluence often conceals poverty, he says.

October 07, 1995|LARRY B. STAMMER and JOHN J. GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

NEW YORK — With a prophet's rebuke and a pastor's heart, Pope John Paul II challenged America on Friday to look beyond its "extravagant" wealth to meet the challenge of its poor citizens and to mend the unraveling fabric of its families.

In what has become a daily examination of the spiritual state of the American union, the Pope said the United States had won the admiration of the world for its power, prestige and wealth.

"But not everyone here is powerful, not everyone here is rich. In fact, America's sometimes extravagant affluence often conceals much hardship and poverty," John Paul declared.

At the same time, he warned, the traditional two-parent family--which the Pope has called the cornerstone of social stability and individual happiness--is threatened by a culture that flees from God and jeopardizes future generations.

"Society must strongly reaffirm the right of the child to grow up in a family in which, as far as possible, both parents are present," he declared.

The Pope delivered his pointed remarks in two parts: first during a wind-blown outdoor Mass at the Aqueduct Racetrack that attracted an estimated 75,000 faithful; and then at St. Joseph's Seminary in suburban Yonkers, N.Y., to 300 young men studying to be priests.

A great cheer erupted when the pontiff appeared on stage early at the racetrack, well before the Mass was to begin. As the wind tousled his white hair, John Paul tapped the microphone to make sure it was working.

"Good morning. Good morning," he said to the assembled worshipers. "Yesterday evening, very strong rain. Today, very strong winds and sun. Good morning. Praise the Lord."

Satisfied the sound system was working properly, the Pope went backstage to prepare for the Mass. When he reappeared, the crowd chanted: "John Paul II, we love you."

Heavy overnight rains had left the track muddy, and a planned ride by the Pope in front of the crowd was scratched. The ubiquitous security officials worried that the bulletproof and heavily armored "Popemobile" would get stuck in the mud.

The mud also took its toll in sprains and broken bones as dozens of people slipped in their struggle to get to their seats in the pre-dawn darkness. Later, as the sun rose, some spectators fainted in mounting heat and humidity.

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A spokesman for New York City's Emergency Medical Service said at least 147 people were injured. He said a 60-year-old woman, who suffered cardiac arrest as she approached the race track, died at a local hospital.

In his addresses Friday, the Pope remained true to the tone that he has set since arriving at Newark International Airport on Wednesday. He has urged the United States not to close its doors to immigrants, warned against cutbacks in care for the needy and elderly, reminded the United States to use its power wisely and urged Americans to care for the most vulnerable.

While John Paul has sounded such themes frequently throughout his 17-year pontificate, they are taking on added significance at a time when Congress is striving to enact deep cuts in welfare spending for the poor and health care benefits for the elderly.

Only Thursday, the government announced that 38 million Americans lived below the poverty line last year. Although the poverty rate--14.5% of the population--was down slightly from the previous year, it remained substantially higher than in nearly all other industrial countries.

John Paul, through frequent meetings with U.S. bishops and other contacts, has kept close tabs on developments here, according to Father David O'Connell, dean of St. John's University,the nation's largest Catholic university.

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"He has been briefed," O'Connell told The Times. "When he speaks of family values, he's very much understanding what's going on."

Indeed, among Protestant leaders invited to meet as a group with the Pope tonight is conservative religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, whose grass-roots Christian Coalition is attempting to make "family values" a major issue of next year's presidential campaign.

Robertson's office said he, along with moderate and liberal church leaders, was invited to the papal audience by Cardinal John J. O'Connor of New York. In 1993, O'Connor joined with the Christian Coalition to elect social conservatives to New York school board posts following an uproar over AIDS education and a curriculum that listed homosexuality as an acceptable alternative lifestyle.

But O'Connor and Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles said the fact that family values and other issues had become part of American political lexicon had not influenced the Pope's pronouncements one way or the other.

"These things are vital issues to him," O'Connor said. "He does not want to let up on any of them."

In his address to the seminarians, John Paul said: "My task is not to speak in purely human terms about merely human values, but in spiritual terms about spiritual values, which are ultimately what makes us fully human."

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