This Month In History
October 2015

This Month in NYS History – Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II Make Their First Respective Visits to New York City – October 4, 1965 and October 2, 19

Pope John Paul II arrives at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx in his “Popemobile”, October 1979
Pope John Paul II arrives at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx in his “Popemobile”, October 1979
In 1965, Pope Paul VI made history by becoming the first Pope in history to visit the United States. Pope Paul’s visit was notable for several reasons. America had been dealing with irrational fear of John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism during the 1960 election cycle against Richard Nixon. Some Kennedy detractors had claimed that Kennedy would be taking orders from the Catholic Church and would be unfit for President. Pope Paul VI’s visit, two years after Kennedy would be assassinated, helped to bridge the ties between the United States and the Catholic Church and helped show the American public that the Church simply wanted to bring about peace and understanding.

Pope Paul’s visit was also remarkable as he inserted himself into the political sphere, as many recent Popes have been prone to do. Pope Paul gave a speech in front of the United Nations General Assembly on the Upper East Side, railing against United States involvement in Vietnam and the rapid escalation of the conflict. The Pope also performed Mass at Yankee Stadium, a tradition that has carried on with Popes to this current day. Pope Paul’s visit inspired thousands, as an estimated 630,000 people watched as the Pope’s motorcade traveled from Kennedy Airport in Queens across the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan. Some children attending Catholic school were even given the day off due to the enormity of the event. President Kennedy’s widow Jackie greeted the Pope as he reached New York.

Fourteen years later, Pope John Paul II would make a similar trip to the United States. The first Pope of Polish descent, John Paul II inspired the thousands of Polish families in New York who had either immigrated themselves or were the descendants of Ellis Island immigrants. Pope John Paul II once again preached the ideals of peace, love and understanding at Battery Park, purposefully with the Statue of Liberty and its inspiring message in the backdrop. In 1995, John Paul II would return to New York and give a riveting mass in Central Park.

Last month, Pope Francis continued the tradition of Papal visits to the United States, visiting Washington D.C., Philadelphia and New York City. During his visit, the Pope visited the 9/11 Memorial, a school in East Harlem, spoke before the United Nations and held mass at Madison Square Garden. The history of papal visits to New York City has brought about messages of inspiration, love, coexistence and peace amongst all peoples, not simply those of the Catholic faith. New York’s melting pot of culture and citizenship has provided ample space for the messages of all Popes past and present to preach these messages.