That Time St. John Paul II Came to Harlem
This was was a landmark moment in Black history because Black Catholic history is Black history. The following is from Pope St. John Paul’s address to African Americans in Harlem a year after he was elected to the papacy.
Pope St. John Paul visited New York during his first papal trip to America back in 1979. He had arrived to the States on October 1 in Boston. Then he quickly jetted over to New York where he spent the next two days. On October 2 he was in New York. He made a bunch of stops and saw lot of people, but one of those stops was in Harlem where took personal time to speak to a group African Americans who had gathered to see him.
“I greet you in the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ. I welcome this opportunity to be with you and to speak to you, and through you to extend my greetings to all black Americans.“
“At Cardinal Cooke’s suggestion, I was happy to include in my plans a visit to the Parish of Saint Charles Borromeo in Harlem, and to its black community, which for half a century has nurtured here the cultural, social and religious roots of black people.“
“I come to you as a servant of Jesus Christ, and I want to speak to you about him. Christ came to bring joy: joy to children, joy to parents, joy to families and to friends, joy to workers and to scholars, joy to the sick and to the elderly, joy to all humanity. In a true sense, joy is the keynote of the Christian message and the recurring motif of the Gospels. Recall the first words of the angel to Mary : “Rejoice, O full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Lk 1: 28). And at the birth of Jesus, the angels announced to the shepherds: “Listen, I bring you news of great joy, joy to be shared by all people” (Lk 2: 10).“
John Paul II’s famous words
Are not those words of Jesus still true today? If we are silent about the joy that comes from knowing Jesus, the very stones of our cities will cry out ! For we are an Easter people and “Alleluia” is our song. With Saint Paul I exhort you: “Rejoice in the Lord always, I say it again, rejoice” (Phil 4: 4)
He later continued and encouraged the people.
“And so I encourage you, be men and women of deep and abiding faith. Be heralds of hope. Be messengers of joy. Be true workers for justice. Let the Good News of Christ radiate from your hearts, and the peace he alone gives remain forever in your souls.
My dear brothers and sisters in the black community : “Rejoice”. Alleluia!“
The rest of “ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS JOHN PAUL II TO A GROUP OF AFRICAN AMERICANS” ( Harlem, 1979) at the Vatican’s website.
Cover photo: St. John Paul II in a New York neighborhood. A portion of a photograph found in New York Times. Used under Fair Use for non-profit comment and education. All original rights to the full image go to the owners of the copyright. Original photo found here.