EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Declaring that "the right to life is the first of all rights," Pope John Paul II told 90,000 of the faithful in rain-swept Giants Stadium yesterday that abortion contradicts America's most basic values.
"When the unborn child -- the 'stranger in the womb' -- is declared to be beyond the protection of society, not only are America's deepest traditions radically undermined and endangered, but a moral blight is brought upon society," the pope said in his sermon during an evening Mass.
And for the second straight day, the pope spoke up for immigrants, urging Americans not to close their borders to newcomers.
Standing on a red-carpeted altar built on the football field, he invoked the image of the Statue of Liberty, just off the New Jersey shore. The monument, he said, "stands as an enduring witness to the American tradition of welcoming the stranger" and "tells us something important about the kind of nation America has aspired to be."
"Is present-day America becoming less sensitive, less caring toward the poor, the weak, the stranger, the needy?" he asked. "It must not!"
The day was -- as all papal visits are -- a mix of religion, politics, pageantry, high security and gridlock.
At the United Nations earlier on the second day of his U.S. visit, Pope John Paul talked about the rights of nations.
At Giants Stadium at the Meadowlands, the pope was resplendent in gold vestments and miter. The Mass-goers, who came ready for the driving rain, were dressed less elegantly. They wore trench coats, camping gear, even plastic garbage bags to protect themselves. As they waited, they sang and did the wave, as if they were at a sports event.
The weather seemed to bother few.
"He came all the way from Rome. We can bear this," said Laura Darcey, 35, of Hillsdale, N.J. Her husband, Bob, said the sodden wait was no problem: "I stood in the rain for the Grateful Dead."
At the end of the Mass, the pope noted the weather. "I see the people of New Jersey know how to pray to God even in the rain." The crowd cheered wildly.
The crowd was dominated by parents and children. Felicia Sacci, 40, of Hackensack, N.J., came to watch her brother, the Rev. Joseph Scarangella, help celebrate Mass and to hear, she hoped, a message about families.
"We need to get back to family," she said.
Others came to pay tribute to the pope as head of the church. But polls say many U.S. Catholics follow their consciences on some issues that the pope firmly opposes, such as abortion, birth control, premarital sex and the ordination of women.
Jason Wallie, 17, of Livingston, N.J., does not see a conflict.
"We have minds of our own," he said. "He can guide us. You have to make choices as an individual."
Martha Vincent, 57, of Scranton, Pa., applauded the pope's homily.
"No man has the right to say who should live and who should die," said Ms. Vincent, who decribes herself as a "traditional" Catholic. "That's God's responsibility. If you live your faith, you have nothing to worry about."
Nancy Giannoula, 43, of Wayne, N.J., proclaimed the homily beautiful. "All I know was that I was crying through the whole thing," she said.
When asked about his message, she said, "There are some things I don't agree with him on -- birth control and abortion. It's the other things that he stands for. There is something about him I still have chills. It's spiritual. To have all these people in one place and not have one incident. This is him. You can only hope it carries with us past the Meadowlands."
As the pope entered the stadium in the glass-enclosed popemobile, the crowd exploded into cheers. Flashbulbs left the stadium glittering in dots of light. The pope was followed onto the altar by about 200 priests, all clad in white to complement the vestments of the Holy Father.
The pope took time to urge the faithful to serve as priests, nuns and missionaries, whose ranks have dwindled in the past decade. "Young Americans, the Lord needs you," the pope said. "The church needs you."
His declaration on abortion surprised no one. The pope has never wavered from the traditional Catholic opposition.
Last night, he cast abortion as a civil rights issue. He chided the United States for not protecting "a new class of people" while it vigilantly decries religious intolerance and racial discrimination.
The right to life, he said, "is the foundation of democratic liberties and the keystone of the edifice of civil society."
That right, he said, should also protect the elderly and severely handicapped.
"When innocent human beings are declared inconvenient or burdensome, and thus unworthy of legal and social protection, grievous damage is done to the moral foundations of the democratic community," he said.
Catholics who favor abortion rights had expected a papal pronouncement. Frances Kissling of the Washington-based abortion-rights group Catholics for a Free Choice said she was relieved to hear the declaration was "as soft as it was."
By linking abortion to civil rights, "this is a much more measured statement," she said. "He has done this in a way that is morally nuanced, less volatile and more liberal than we have seen in the past, and for that I'm grateful."
At the United Nations, the pope challenged mankind to build a "civilization of love" for the next millennium and urged the world body to rise above "the cold status of an administrative institution" and become "a moral center" for the world.
In a 45-minute speech that he read in six languages, the pope sketched a framework for peace and development, urging the international organization to be more than a mediator. It should, XTC he said, promote values that protect weaker nations for the "greater good for everyone."
That world, the pope told the General Assembly delegates, should be based on respect for all cultures and ethnic groups, a belief that freedom is "the measure of man's dignity and greatness," and a wariness of nationalism.
In its "unhealthy form," he said, nationalism "teaches contempt for other nations and cultures," and can lead to "a nightmare of violence and terror."
Long a defender of human rights, Pope John Paul asserted yesterday his belief in the rights of nations. No one, he said, "is ever justified in asserting that an individual nation is not worthy of existence."
The delegates gave him a standing ovation.
Pope John Paul's voice was strong as he stood before the General Assembly. The pope, who spent the first night of his U.S. visit at the Manhattan residence of the Vatican's U.N. representative, arrived to chants of "John Paul II, we love you."
The New York skies were rainy and gray. The pope walked slowly down a red carpet into the United Nations. He was greeted first by Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and then by a choir of children who in tiny voices sang, "Let There Be Peace on Earth."
"It was wonderful, your singing for the peace," the pope told them. "You pray singing, and you pray as children.
"Children have a special power," he said in grandfatherly tones as he blessed them.