NEWARK, N.J. -- The chosen sat in the splendor of a hilltop cathedral, waiting for a spiritual chance of a lifetime -- to pray with Pope John Paul II.
The faithful stood in a misty rain in this gritty city, welcoming the pope in words and song. This, too, was a defining moment for those gathered in the shadows of Sacred Heart Cathedral.
"I've been blessed because I'm here today," said Ramona Jimenez, the mother of three children, who spent the day behind police barricades across the street from the cathedral, waiting for the pope's arrival.
"To me, when he comes to one place, he comes to the whole world," said Mother Mary Michael, a Carmelite nun who received special permission to leave her cloistered monastery to attend last night's evening prayer service with the pope.
For the 1,800 people seated inside the cathedral and the crowds gathered outside, the pope's visit provided a spiritual lift for the archdiocese's 1.3 million Catholics and a civic boost to one of America's most maligned and impoverished cities. The neighborhood surrounding Sacred Heart -- a soaring stone structure distinguished by its two diagonally set towers -- is beset by crime, drugs and graffiti.
"Unfortunately, the image of Newark, really since the riots (of 1967) has not yet recovered," said Monsignor George Trabold, the archdiocese director of development. "We really look upon the visit of the Holy Father and the attention given to Newark as a real boost and a chance to overcome those stereotypes."
Yesterday, however, the streets and storefronts appeared tidy and clean. Sanitation crews dubbed "The Clean Team" spent the night and morning in the neighborhood, painting over graffiti on light poles and picking up trash from the streets.
But the true focus was on the pontiff and the opportunity to be in his presence.
"I want to catch a glimpse of the pope," said Manuel Losada, an interpreter for the Legal Aid Society, who arrived from the Bronx, N.Y., with his family. "The pope is the representative of Christ on Earth. He embodies the stability and immutability of the Catholic doctrine."
Mr. Losada was among dozens of Hispanic Catholics who lined the streets outside the cathedral and held home-made banners, welcoming the pope to America. They sang hymns in Spanish to the accompaniment of guitars, bongos and tambourines.
They brought their children and priests who weren't lucky enough to gain a seat among the clergy inside the cathedral. They waited hours for the pope's motorcade to arrive. But they were happy to wait.
"If they gave me a chance to go to see O. J., that trial, or to see the pope, I would come see the pope," said Nancy Zarajoza, 30, of Brooklyn, N.Y. "This is only one time in your life."
Sanitation worker Robert Brown added: "It's a great event. It shows the pope does care about the inner cities. That he doesn't just care about the big places, that he's the pope of all the people."
Street vendors sold buttons of the pope -- five different styles -- small wooden crosses that carried his picture, and yellow and white welcome flags.
Ms. Zarajoza and the others who stood outside the cathedral would get only a glimpse of the pope, as he stood in the bubble top of the white popemobile. They shouted "Viva La Papa" and a Spanish chant that translated as "John Paul II, We Love You!" They could watch the evening prayer service on a Jumbotron television screen erected across from the cathedral's main entrance.
Those inside the church also watched the pope's arrival and motorcade on two television screens positioned alongside the altar. The 2,000-seat church was filled with representatives from the archdiocese's 241 parishes, about 200 cloistered nuns and clergy, church dignitaries, state and local officials and members of President Clinton's Cabinet.
To enter the cathedral, people passed through metal detectors and were screened by the Secret Service.