In October 1979, John Paul II became the first pope ever to visit Chicago, drawing a crowd of 1.2 million to Grant Park and bringing a rarely-seen spirit of unity across the city.
It was not the first time the man once known as Cardinal Karol Józef Wojtyła visited Chicago. He had most recently been to a Northwest Side church in his role as a Polish cardinal in 1976, the Chicago Tribune reported.
But two years later, Karol Józef Wojtyła became Pope John Paul II, and on Oct. 4 and 5, 1979, he drew warm and exuberant crowds at his every stop when he came to Chicago. And for the mere 40 hours in which he was in the city, he brought millions of Chicagoans together, just briefly setting aside their beliefs.
The morning after he arrived, the pope's first stop was in Chicago's Latino community, at the Providence of God Church, at 717 W. 18th St. in the Pilsen neighborhood. Parishioners said it was an act of God that brought the Holy Father to Pilsen, and many of them spent the night under a chilly Dan Ryan overpass, awaiting the arrival of el Papa Juan Pablo.
Even though Pope John Paul arrived half an hour late, it was to a tumultuous welcome. He addressed the Mexican-American audience in both English and Spanish, praising the Campaign for Human Development – the Church's anti-poverty program – and calling for a strengthening of faith among the poor, the elderly and the sick. The parishioners then presented the pope with flowers and a scroll expressing their concern over the plight of undocumented workers.
Within 15 minutes, the visit was over. After blessing the crowd, the pope was off again. But he left behind a memory that was destined to endure.
"I was so excited. I don't know who was more excited – myself or the children – but it was just such a beautiful experience," said Sister Dolorine Lopez. "This is something I'll never, never forget."
Later, Pope John Paul celebrated a mass in Polish in the Brighton Park neighborhood, where he received a w...