Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Last papal visit to Philly was by Pope John Paul II in '79

More than a million turned out to catch a glimpse of the pope.

PHILADELPHIA turned out more than a million people to welcome and strain to see Pope John Paul II on the last papal visit to the city in October 1979.

Catholics, Baptists, Unitarians, atheists - whatever their faith or lack thereof - the devoted and the curious and those in between packed the Benjamin Franklin Parkway from City Hall to the Art Museum in a sea of humanity the city had never seen before.

They had come if only to catch a glimpse of the pope, whose white vestments glowed in the autumn sunlight.

The pope spent 21 hours and 12 minutes in Philadelphia as part of his first visit to the United States. He arrived here from New York, where he had celebrated Mass at Yankee Stadium, then went on to Chicago and Washington, D.C.

He celebrated Mass on a platform built on Logan Circle outside the Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul, and 3,000 priests roamed through the vast crowd distributing Communion.

Displaying his celebrated human touch, the pope declined a limousine waiting for him after he delivered a talk inside the cathedral and walked among the crowd to the platform to celebrate the Mass.

Ever smiling and ever waving, the pope proved he was a charmer and crowd-pleaser of the first order. 
At Philadelphia International Airport, where the pope's TWA 727, named "Shepherd One," touched down an hour late because of bad weather over New York, Mayor Frank Rizzo famously knelt on one knee and kissed the pope's ring. His wife, Carmella, also kissed his ring. Cardinal John Krol, then archbishop of Philadelphia and a fellow Pole, gave the pope a big hug. Gov. Dick Thornburgh was among the greeters.

The pope visited the seminarians at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary before retiring to Cardinal Krol's residence. The next day he visited the Shrine of St. John Neumann at 5th Street and Girard Avenue, and the Ukrainian Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Franklin Street near Brown.