Mass with the Pope

September 18, 1987

Pope John Paul II visits Detroit

 

Pope John Paul II

When it was announced that John Paul II, "The Polish Pope", would visit Detroit, speak, and give a mass, Dave immediately announced he would attend. Unfortunately, Detroit replaced the public open-air sessions held everywhere else with a simple sit-down service for 110,000 people at the enclosed Pontiac Silverdome. This meant you would need a ticket, and Dave had not been a practicing Catholic for over a decade.

Dave asked every Catholic he knew to inquire for him about getting an "extra ticket" and he was extremely sadden when many made fun of his serious request or gave sarcastic lip-service without follow-up. Since THEY didn't want to see the Pope, why would Dave?

The solution came from an unexpected source. Dave's oldest brother, also not a practicing Catholic, worked for a company that had a "sky-box" at the Silverdome. The box seated over 30 (for football) yet only six or seven employees had asked for access to see most influential and well-known religious figure in the world. On learning of this, Dave's brother asked for several tickets and Dave, along with his parents, attended and literally "broke bread" with Pope John Paul II and one hundred thousand of his friends.

The "Church"

The Arrival

Mass

Departure

Our Group

Transport

The Silverdome becomes a Catholic Church

Many changes were made at the Silverdome to insure that all advertising was blocked by inspirational messages. The Budweiser and Marlboro ads were covered with bible quotes. The central floor was covered with a large round raised area, with central alter, huge chair, and seating for several thousand. The wood platforms and oversized candles softened the look of a configuration traditionally used for tractor pulls, concerts or Wrestlemania. Of course, the entire arena was packed. Most impressive were the hundreds of Communion chalices assembled, presumably, from almost every Catholic church in the Diocese, that would enable one hundred thousand people to share communion in a relatively brief period.

Inspirational messages hid advertisements

The stadium end-zone restaurant and its garish billboards were miraculously transformed for the pontiffs visit.

Chalices for Communion

Hundreds of communion chalices would facilitate breaking bread with a flock of over one hundred thousand 

Stadium Sized Altar

Stadium Sized Altar

A central altar in a configuration used for concerts
Thousands of church officials participated in the service

The arrangements were amazingly well organized and the indirect daylight through the opaque stadium roof softened the large building and gave it at least some small sense of piety and dedication.

Dave brought the "good camera" and zoom lenses and made extra sets of prints as a thank you for the kindness of his brother's employer.

However, out of respect, he took only a few discrete pictures during the actual service.

Standing Room Only Crowd

Every seat was filled when John Paul II finally arrived

Our Links:

The Pope Arrives

The Pope Arrives

The Pope Arrives

The Pope arrived on a helicopter (deemed "Shepherd One" throughout his visit), and entered the stadium in his famous "Pope-mobile" where he was driven for a courtesy lap blessing the audience. The public announcer repeated dozens of times to please remain seated to provide proper visibility to all in attendance. Of course, when the spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic church appears, everybody shot to their feet (out of respect for him and for the hundreds of nuns waving their arms in instruction!) Indeed, during this period most could only glimpse his Holiness for a second or two here or there.

The precession to the alter included the pontiff, dozens of Cardinals, Arch Bishops, Bishops, Monsignors, and hundreds of Priests from all orders. Busloads of nuns, acres of choral voices, hundreds of photographers and a full secret service detail were all present and slowly came to order for the mass.

The Pope Arrives

The Pope Arrives

The Mass and Sermon

The Pope Serves Mass

The Pope Serves Mass

The Pope Serves Mass

The Pope Serves Mass

Some received communion directly from the Pope

The Pope was visibly tired from his trip and, although young by Papal standards, was already an old man and had been going non-stop across America for almost two weeks.  It was fascinating to hear him speak, although his accent and his exhaustion made his words very difficult to follow. He gave a standard Roman Catholic mass, with readings, hymns (words provided on the stadium scoreboard), and incense.

His Sermon was very difficult to understand, although the sky-box area was provided with both close-in television coverage and piped in audio feeds.

The communion was a miracle, with several hundred chosen to receive the host directly from his Holiness. For the rest, hundreds of priests each took one blessed chalice and methodically spread out to cover the entire stadium crowd (hundreds headed up the ramps to the second tier).

Communion was provided two rows at a time, with the priest and assistants standing in the aisle and each person walking in a counter-clockwise circle. After each person received communion, both rows were seated, and the priest proceeded to the next set of two rows.

A knock came at the sky-box door and a priest assigned to our section provided communion to the dozen of us informally, in a strangely personal and private moment

The Pope Serves Mass

The Pope Serves Mass

The pope was dwarfed by the immense altar space
Soon it was time for the benediction

The Pope Departs

The Pope Serves Mass

The Pope Departs

The Pope Departs

The Pope Departs

When the mass was ended, John Paul II left on foot, walking once around the large altar area blessing the various sections of the arena. After his departure, the closed circuit TV covered his helicopter flight and included surreal commentary much like after a political news conference.

Our Group

Our Group

Dave's brother procured tickets to his company's sky-box at the Silverdome when nobody else requested them. Yet there was a ten year wait to see the Lions.

Dave's brother owned an oversized carpool van and drove our entire group to the stadium. Everybody was on best behavior, kind and courteous, and well aware that they were in the middle of having a once in a lifetime experience.

Our Group

Our Group

Transportation Areas

TV Trucks in the Parking Lot

Church school buses bring the faithful

Satellite uplink trucks fill the parking lot
Parochial School Buses bring the faithful

The most amazing aspect of the large crowd, much larger than for a normal football game, were the hundreds of yellow school busses used to transport the faithful from all over the metropolitan area and throughout the state and region. Dozens of satellite uplink trucks from across the region and the country were also present.




Original Web Upload January 2003
Last Update: January 10, 2003