ST. LOUIS -- With President Clinton on the guest list and a mass rally for youth on the schedule, this very Catholic city prepares to welcome Pope John Paul II today for a 30-hour visit that will end his last pilgrimage to the Americas in this millennium.
The pontiff will likely receive a rousing welcome here, in a city named for the sainted king of France. One-third of St. Louis' population is Roman Catholic, and it is home to the highest percentage of Catholics attending parochial school in the country.
"We figure this is just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Dan Shaughnessy, whose family has erected a tent on their large front lawn along the papal parade route and publicly invited anyone interested to stop by. "This is probably the Holy Father's last visit to the United States, and he chose to come to St. Louis."
Keeler, Brady in delegation
John Paul, 78, is widely believed to be suffering from Parkinson's disease and appears increasingly frail. He is due to arrive in the early afternoon from Mexico and will be greeted by Clinton, Archbishop Justin Rigali of St. Louis and the American cardinals, including Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore.
The delegation will also include James S. Brady, the gun-control crusader and former aide to President Reagan who, like John Paul, was wounded in 1981 by an assassin's bullet.
In the evening, the pope will attend a youth rally at the Kiel Center, a downtown arena. Tomorrow, John Paul celebrates Mass at the Trans World Dome, home of the St. Louis Rams, before an expected crowd of 100,000.
He will celebrate Evening Prayer at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, which will be attended by baseball great Stan Musial, who has known the pope since 1970. John Paul will meet with Vice President Al Gore before departing for Rome tomorrow night.
Reaching out to the rich
In Mexico City yesterday, John Paul reached out to the rich, celebrating a private Mass for bankers, politicians and other church patrons. At the Vatican's nunciate, or embassy, in Mexico City, well-dressed couples climbed out of luxury cars for the gathering, offering a stark contrast to Sunday's Mass before an estimated 1 million people at a dusty, trash-filled auto racetrack.
John Paul urged the group to bring religious values to public life, said Carlos Medina Plascencia, an opposition leader in the Chamber of Deputies.
The Vatican also condemned U.S. bombing raids on Iraq.
In Missouri today, the pope will be greeted by brisk temperatures and sunny skies, according to predictions -- thanks to the "pink sisters" of St. Louis.
The nuns, more properly known as the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters, were tagged with their nickname because of their rose-colored habits. They have been praying night and day for a sunny day for the pope's visit.
Responding to an entreaty from the Archdiocese of St. Louis, "We made it a special part of our daily prayer, to pray for the Holy Father's health and for good weather," said Sister Mary Gemma, superior of the convent.
"It seems the prediction is good, but we'll take whatever the Lord gives us," Sister Mary Gemma said. "He knows what is best."
While the sisters work on the spiritual plane, others have been engaged in more temporal preparations for the pope. Along the papal parade route, workers have erected about 15 miles of orange snow fencing to control crowds.
City crews have busily repaired potholes and trimmed trees. More than 1,000 banners in the papal colors of blue, white and gold grace the city's light poles.
In Mexico, souvenirs such as papal portraits included in bags of potato chips created a stir. Here, there are denim shirts, papal hats, commemorative medals and rosaries to mark his visit.
There is also "The Popes' " dry red and white table wine, featuring a drawing of St. Peter's Basilica and the crest of the Holy See on the label. Each bottle of wine, which is distributed by the priestly brotherhood Fraternitas, bears a certificate of authenticity assuring that it has been individually blessed.
Everywhere, signs welcome John Paul to St. Louis. "The Pope brings Light to St. Louis and all the world," reads a banner erected above a downtown pawnshop on the parade route. On a hotel under construction near the famous Arch is the inscription, "John Paul II We Love You."
Some signs are even simpler. Hanging from a balcony at an apartment building across the street from the Cathedral is a bedsheet with the message, "Shalom, Pope."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Pub Date: 1/26/99