Even in rain, pope is a hit with the young

August 14, 1993|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Staff Writer

DENVER -- Rain and adulation are pouring onto Pope John Paul II as throngs of T-shirted Roman Catholic teen-agers give him the kind of attention that's usually reserved for rock stars.

Said a boy in the wildly cheering crowd of more than 90,000 who jammed rain-drenched Mile High Stadium on Thursday night for the 73-year-old pope's greetings in 15 languages, "What he said was fabulous, even though I could hardly understand it."

He is one of the 186,000 teen-agers and young adults from 70 countries who are in the Denver area for scattered events of the Roman Catholic Church's fifth biennial World Youth Day.

The gathering is the first held in the United States, and the occasion for the pope's third trip to the country as head of the church. He had visited parts of the country, including Baltimore, before he was elected pope in 1978.

Seemingly typical of his young admirers yesterday were hundreds who got up before dawn to be as close as possible to the cordoned-off Denver cathedral in the hope of catching a distant glimpse of the white-robed religious celebrity.

They were rewarded when the pope paused on the cathedral steps, looked their way and blessed them with the sign of the cross.

Said a breathless girl from New Jersey, "I can't believe it. I'm so close to him, and he's so close to God."

Avoiding the issues?

But while the pontiff was meeting and praying with the church hierarchy inside the lofty, Gothic-style cathedral, dissatisfied Catholic adults were publicly raising issues they say he is avoiding in his rallies for the young people from around the world.

One of these issues was some priests' sexual abuse of children and the way the church has dealt with the problem.

Referring to the pope's emphasis on his opposition to abortion, Frances Kissling, head of Catholics for a Free Choice, said, "He needs to apologize for the sexual abuse that's gone on and the discrimination against women."

Sister Agnes Ann Schum, a Denver nun, said she was at a news conference here arranged by a coalition of 33 liberal Catholic organizations because "I'm strongly in favor of the ordination of women."

She added, a little wistfully: "If I were still a teen-ager, I would have been out at Mile High Stadium, too. I like the pomp and circumstance."

Ms. Kissling noted that "having an abortion puts you outside the church, but not pedophilia if you are a priest."

She asked at the news conference in a crowded hotel suite, "Why isn't priestly pedophilia one of the things that's cause for automatic excommunication?"

Need for role models

In his remarks inside the Denver cathedral -- before the gathering of robed cardinals, archbishops and bishops concluded their worship by singing a Protestant hymn, "The Church's One Foundation" -- the pope referred to the need for them to be role models for the young. But he did not mention transgressions such as sexual abuse specifically.

"We bishops and priests have a great responsibility," the pope said, asking, "Are we always ready to help the young people discover the transcendent elements of the Christian life?

"From our words and actions, do they conclude that the church is indeed a mystery of communion with the Blessed Trinity, and not just a human institution with temporal aims?"

Before leaving for a day of rest and hiking at a Catholic retreat and conference center in the mountains northwest of Denver, the pope told his fellow bishops:

"In a sense we, the pastors, have been called here by the young people themselves."

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