An interesting combination of the time of year coupled with a papal visit is making me nostalgic. As Pope Francis currently visits Cuba and the U.S. I find myself thinking back 32 years to September 1984 when then Pope John Paul II visited Canada.
Upon finishing grad school I had done a few jobs while looking for something more career-like when, out of the blue, I found myself employed as the Coordinator of Youth – English Language Services of the 1984 Papal Visit to Montreal. I started in February, we were housed in a centuries-old building in Old Montreal, by the port. A part of the city that is a magnet for tourists in the summer, but that can be quite desolate in winter.
My responsibilities fell into two main categories; pre-visit animation and preparations for the Youth Rally at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium.
I am struck by the effect of Pope Francis on Americans of all religions. It is reminiscent of how people reacted to JPII in 1984. One assumes Catholics are going to be deeply moved, but non-Catholics and even non-believers are often touched by the pontiff. And if they are not moved spirituality, they can’t help but be impressed by the immensity of a papal visit. Insane levels of security are put in place such that even residents of cities like New York and Washington D.C. who see more than their fair share of hoopla are talking.
In 1984 there was a great feeling of flying by the seat of our pants as we organized things. Several weeks before the actual visit a federal election was rumoured to be called. This caused great angst as the pope had stated clearly he would not visit any country in the midst of an election campaign lest he be ‘used’ by one party or another in photo opportunities etc. Fortunately the election was held prior to the visit so all our work and anticipation was not wasted and the visit went ahead.
It was a wonderful experience that opened many doors to me, including several years coordination political conventions.