As pope, St. John Paul II made seven visits to the United States. It was on his sixth and penultimate trip that the Pope stopped at Newark’s Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.
It was 28 years ago, on October 4, 1995, that John Paul II entered the cathedral for evening prayer. He was greeted by a large and enthusiastic crowd, which included then US President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton. The president had greeted Pope John Paul II earlier upon his arrival at Newark Airport. The two men then met privately at the archbishop’s residence.
In the homily he delivered at the vespers service, John Paul II said, “The presence of the President of the United States at this Evening Prayer helps us call to mind that it is precisely our service of God which inspires and motivates the healthy pride which we all feel in our native land. This evening let us thank God for the extraordinary human epic that is the United States of America.”
A call to peace
As the purpose of his visit was to address the United Nations on its 50th anniversary, the Pope noted that it was the feast of St. Francis of Assisi and invoked the saint’s intercession upon the UN’s work in spreading peace. He also made a connection to the mission of the UN and the life of faith:
The United Nations is an instrument of dialogue and peace. The criteria of its actions ought always to be the integral well-being of people. The challenge which is permanently before its member States, agencies and personnel is similar to the challenge which confronts every individual: “In your relations with one another clothe yourselves with humility” (1Pt. 5: 5). In particular, the powerful and the mighty ought to show meekness in their dealings with the weak. The powerful always need to remember that they owe their position to God – to the One who “is stern with the arrogant but who shows kindness to the humble” (Cf. ibid.). Nations and governments – like individuals – need to acknowledge that the Lord “rules the world with justice; with fairness he rules the peoples and guides the nations” (Ps. 67(66): 5-6).
At that time, the Pope also elevated the cathedral to the status of a minor basilica. It then became the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
Remembering a saint
The papal visit is remembered in the cathedral’s Chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes, where John Paul II stopped to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. Worshipers may use the same kneeler that the Pope did that day. There is also a reliquary containing a relic of St. John Paul II and a painted portrait of the papal saint.
View the photo gallery below to see the chapel. You can also view a virtual tour of the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart.