Papal Visit

This is a story about the Pope’s 1987 visit to San Francisco. On his way downtown after his arrival, he made a mini-tour of the city drawing thousands who lined the street to catch a glimpse of the Papal Eminence as he whisked by in his Pope-mobile. I, along with the multitudes, went down and took up a position on a main drag called Geary Avenue, which bisects the city east to west, bay to sea.

When I arrived at the appointed hour, there was an impassioned tiff transpiring between two wildly divergent groups. On one side of the broad boulevard, some crazed Korean religious group was brandishing banners declaring the Pontiff to be Satan; on the opposite side of the street, a large contingent of Catholic schoolgirls, resplendent in their plaids, rosary beads and necklaces with tiny gold crosses stood aghast at the blasphemy.

The Koreans had bullhorns through which they were screaming their derision of His Holiness, much to the collective chagrin of the spirited young lasses. At one point, one of the Papal defilers placed one of the bullhorns in front of the other, the better to amplify his heresy. That brought the local constabulary to the fore (these, looking very Irish and very, very Catholic, were just itching for an excuse to throttle the sacrilegious bawlers) and promptly asked to see their permit for the demonstration and, more specifically, for the use of the bullhorns in said protest.

Throughout all this, the distraught schoolgirls were howling their displeasure with the antics of the abhorrent Asians, making their position on the ignominious behavior of the blasphemers abundantly clear. After quickly perusing the permits, the police determined they were in compliance but only for one horn at a time. The demented Koreans continued their rant; the horrified damsels increased their remonstrations: this time aimed at the police as much as their antagonists; for they were sure the constables, presumed representatives of righteousness, would shut down the heretics in the name of all that is good and holy.

As fate would have it, at just this moment the Pope-mobile rounded the corner and approached the roiling row. Acting purely on instinct, I took up a post right alongside the loudest bullhorn wielding provocateur. As the pope neared, the bullhorn volume increased. I stepped up next to the ear of the yawping dissenter and began booming in full basso profundo, “Viva La Papa, Viva La Papa” repeatedly, much to the delight of the gathered Catholics and especially the overwrought schoolgirls.

As you are probably aware from hearing me wail the Humble Pie tune, “Come on Everybody” countless times, I can bring it when called upon. I could have sworn, as his vehicle came abreast, the Pope turned in our direction at the sound of my caterwauling; but realistically, it was probably the sight of those loons saluting him with a white sheet splashed with blood red lettering proclaiming him Mephistopheles.

Whatever the case, it was a truly cinematic scene: on the one side, screaming schoolgirls, obviously overjoyed with the Pontifical presence as well as their avenging angel (that would be me), given to much cheering and ballyhooing; on the other, the piteous protesters being outdone by a single voice, and an unamplified one at that; and whizzing past with a quizzical look on his face, the principal of one of the world’s leading religions, hearing a fervent wish for his longevity rising out of the raucous throng like the boisterous braying of one possessed. It was a sight to be sure.

When the Pope was past, I turned to the fellow with the horn and said “Take that, Jack” or something to that effect. Quickly, two very large Koreans approached with apparent menace on their faces; but since the police were still on the scene, they could only glower in silence. Meanwhile, I was greeted with pats on the back from those about me, heartfelt huzzahs from the assembled flock and smiling cheers from the little lassies across the street.

As mentioned, it is not that I am overly devout – or prone to any amount of religiosity for that matter. I just could not sit still while some mad, mean-spirited Moonies (for I do believe these nutcases were followers of Sun Young Moon) sought to spoil the day for a group of innocents trying only to catch a glimpse of their revered spiritual leader. Of course, there may be some lingering religious leanings buried somewhere deep by the incessant inoculation of my formative years. Suffice to say, I enjoyed enormously the opportunity to lock horns, if only verbally, with the obviously deranged as well as widely reviled and emerge triumphant, the vanquishing paladin.

Papal Visit

stephen hewitt

Lanexa, United States

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A story about the Pope’s 1987 visit to SF

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