YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Pope Offers Vision of Church for Millennium : Religion: He calls on youth to serve the poor and ill. Pontiff's Central Park sermon is most orthodox of trip.


NEW YORK — Speaking against the soaring New York skyline, Pope John Paul II celebrated an exuberant open-air Mass in Central Park on Saturday and held out his vision for the world's 1 billion Roman Catholics as the church approaches its third millennium.

In a message aimed at the thousands of youthful faces in the crowd, the pontiff said: "You young people will live most of your lives in the next millennium. . . . You must transmit your joy in being adopted sons and daughters of God through the creative power of the Holy Spirit.

"Do not be afraid. The power of the Holy Spirit is with you."

As he has throughout his visit to the United States, which ends today with a Mass in Baltimore, the Pope called on young church members to serve the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the lonely and the ill, including people with AIDS.

"You are called to stand up for life," he proclaimed to applause from the 200,000 who gathered under gray skies in Central Park's Sheep Meadow. Defending life, the Pope made clear, means opposing abortion, pornography, euthanasia and assisted suicide.

"Stand up for marriage and family life. Stand up for purity," he urged.

Later, speaking under the vaulted arches of St. Patrick's Cathedral, the Pope acknowledged that these are difficult times for parents who want to pass on their faith to their children.

"Sometimes you yourselves are not sure what the church stands for," he said. "There are false teachers and dissenting voices. Bad examples cause great harm. Furthermore, a self-indulgent culture undermines many of the values which are at the basis of sound family life"--an apparent reference to the church's controversial opposition to artificial birth control and female priests.

The answer to these moral questions, he said, is to be found in prayer and in the church's catechism, which spells out its doctrines and moral teachings.

The Pope's sermon in the park, with its frequent references to the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, was his most religiously orthodox statement so far during the trip.

In previous addresses, John Paul appealed to his listeners' social and moral values as he coaxed them to redouble their efforts on behalf of the downtrodden. This time his words were anchored firmly in Scripture and the 2,000-year-old tradition of the Roman Catholic Church.

His left hand trembling, the Pope spoke movingly of his youth even as he looked to the next century.

"I remember a song I used to sing in Poland as a young man, a song which I still sing as Pope," he said. In a moment filled with poignancy, he sang it in Polish to the delight of the enthralled crowd.

"You applaud," he said, a twinkle in his eye. "But did you understand?"

He said it was a tale of the shepherds called to Bethlehem at the first Christmas to see the newborn Jesus--the same story told in the familiar Christmas carol "Silent Night."

"If I speak of Christmas, it is because in less than five years we shall reach the end of the second millennium, 2,000 years since the birth of Christ on that first Christmas night in Bethlehem," he said. "We must allow the Holy Spirit to prepare us for this important event, which is another significant stage of His passage through history and of our pilgrimage of faith."

Looking up from his text and gazing into the crowd, John Paul said that he loved them and that he knew they would do this. "Then you can tell the whole world that you gave the Pope his Christmas present in October, in New York, in Central Park," he said, ending his homily.

Spontaneously, the crowd began singing "Silent Night" as the Pope, surprised and moved, looked on.

It was perhaps the most moving moment on a journey filled with moving moments.

At age 75, John Paul sees the millenium both as a symbol and as a reference point for his accomplishments and his goals.

These include converting more people to Catholicism and healing divisions within Christianity. He is particularly keen on a new unity with the Eastern Orthodox churches.

In a change of plans, the pontiff traveled to Central Park not in his heavily armored limousine but in the "Popemobile," its clear top allowing his New York neighbors their first chance to see him. He is staying at the Vatican's mission to the United Nations on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

Before the service, John Paul walked onstage and delivered a weather report into the microphone. "Good morning," he told the crowd in front of the altar. "Today, no sun." The Pope then walked across the stage to greet members of the orchestra and chorus.

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who attended the Mass, said he was very proud of the way the pontiff was welcomed by all New Yorkers.

Los Angeles Times Articles