As the Archdiocese of New York prepares for the arrival of Pope Francis on September 24, 2015, the Archives is taking a look back at the previous papal visits. Pope Francis will be the fourth pope to visit New York City and to speak at the United Nations since Blessed Paul VI’s historic arrival in 1965. Other posts in the series look at the cancelled 1994 Papal Visit, Papal Visit Memorabilia, Papal Mass Chalices, the planning of Papal Visits, past tickets and programs, and the 1965 Papal Mass at Yankee Stadium.
Before Pope Francis celebrates mass at Madison Square Garden this Friday, September 25, 1979 was the last time the Garden had a visit from a pope. Saint John Paul II, during his 1979 visit to New York City, attended a youth concert on October 3.
The concert was unique in that it was not only attended by the children of the Archdiocese of New York, but also organized and promoted by them. Over 20,000 teenagers, mostly from Archdiocesan high schools and youth programs, attended the concert. Tickets to the concert were awarded by raffle, and all Catholic high schools were given the day off so students could attend. The program included a prayer service, songs, and a media presentation. The musical component included a folk ensemble, three bands, and a chorus of students from seven high schools.
There was a theme song written for the event titled “We Are Today.” The lyrics were:
We are today.
We are the hands and hearts and promise of today…
We are the smiles and dreams and music of today…
We are alive to the joy that comes from caring.
We are alive to the joy of playing, working, sharing…
We are today.
The children also presented the pope with some symbolic gifts, including a guitar (the symbol of music), jeans and a t-shirt (symbolic of Pope John Paul II’s care for the world’s youth), a medal of Mary(a symbol of the Blessed Mother), and a pledge of service and sacrifice from all the children present. The t-shirt read “The Big Apple welcomes Pope John Paul II.” The pope honored the students by immediately putting the medal around his neck.
After he left Madison Square Garden, the Pope was treated to a ticker-tape parade down Broadway, ending at Battery Park. On Pope Francis’s upcoming visit, his stop at Madison Square Garden is one of the highlights of his trip to New York City, as it is the only place where he will celebrate a public mass.
Pope John Paul’s visit was selected as one of Madison Square Garden’s “Defining Moments,” and was the subject of a documentary that aired on MSG channel.