by Joseph Master

On October 3, 1979, Pope John Paul II arrived at Philadelphia International Airport to fanfare comparable to the coming of the Beatles at JFK. Cardinal John Krol and Mayor Frank L. Rizzo —who knelt to kiss the Piscatory Ring as the press flashed photographs — greeted the pontiff on the tarmac while onlookers cheered.

“Your Holiness, we welcome you to the great city of Philadelphia,” Mayor Rizzo said. “With all the love and affection we can send to you, we are so happy to have you here.”

“Thank you very much,” the Pope said. “Philadelphia means ‘Brotherly Love.’ Thank you.”

For the next two days, John Paul II made Philadelphia home, offering Mass to a crowd of 1.3 million at Logan Circle and to the clergy at the old Civic Center. Crowds lined the streets from City Hall to the Art Museum. Television crews camped out for the play-by-play.

It’s all about to happen again. With Pope Francis set to arrive in Philadelphia this weekend, the crowds will be back — two million people by some estimates. Yet, while the city looks forward to the arrival of Pope Francis, one Temple University student has been tasked with looking back.

An Internship of Papal Proportions

Angela Indik Angela Indik, a 44-year-old American studies major, spent this past summer researching Pope John Paul II’s visit while interning at the Philadelphia City Archives. She used her findings to build an exhibit — including newspaper clippings, original documents, ephemera and photographs — that is on display now at the Archives’ entrance at 3101 Market Street.

Indik, a Bucks County native who worked as a certified massage therapist for 13 years, says she came back to Temple to major in American Studies because she caught the genealogy bug.

“I’ve always been fascinated by history and our ancestors,” Indik says.  “I loved finding old documents and researching their origins. Getting this internship has given me hope that I will get a job in my field when I graduate.”

Thanks in part to mentorship from Hilary Iris Lowe who serves as the director of Temple University’s Center for Public History and helped Angela secure the internship, Indik was able to turn a passion for digging into the past into a decidedly forward-thinking opportunity.

“It’s fantastic that Angie was able to put together an exhibit on Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1979,” Lowe says. “It’s extremely rare that an undergraduate student would have this kind of opportunity — and it speaks to Angie’s interest and hard work that the city trusted her to put it together. It’s a wonderful idea to create an exhibit that helps us all put the current visit into a recent historical perspective.”

The Lowdown on the 1979 Visit

What was so interesting about Pope John Paul II’s visit, which was the very first Apostolic sojourn in the United States?

“Well, everything!” Indik says. “It was such an amazing, big event. And it was interesting to find the stories behind the story.”

For one, then-mayor Frank Rizzo was a polarizing figure who held office during an economic downturn, amid allegations of racial discrimination in City Hall. In 1979, Rizzo was serving his final term. Pending the papal visit, Rizzo sanctioned the construction of a three-story platform to elevate the Pope while he offered Mass at Logan Circle. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took notice and sued the city of Philadelphia for violating the First Amendment by using taxpayer money to fund a religious ceremony.

The ACLU won the suit.

“Thankfully, Mayor Nutter does not seem to be on setting himself up for this kind of legacy for Philadelphia,” Lowe says. “It is, as you say, a different time.”

Angela’s Research Highlights

  • The Pope made Philadelphia his home on Oct. 3 and 4, 1979.
  • 1.3 million people attended the Public Mass at Logan Circle, including 20,000 who reserved seats around the altar.
  • John Paul II performed two masses: One at the Civic Center (just for clergy) and another for the public at Logan Circle.
  • At the Civic Center, the Pope experienced some technical difficulties:  his microphone shorted out.

Pope John Paul II received these gifts from the City of Philadelphia:

  • A historic Matthew Carey bible from the 1700s. It was one of the first Catholic bibles printed in America.
  • A copper engraving of William Penn with Native Americans signing a treaty. This was chosen because Penn brought religious tolerance to Philadelphia.
  • A plaque with Pope John Paul II’s papal coat of arms.
  • A porcelain sculpture of two fawns titled “Young and Free.” This was chosen for the Pope’s belief in peace, freedom and the spirit of youth.

Next Stops

When Indik decided to go back to college as a non-traditional student, she certainly had her doubts.

“It was a big risk for me to join this obscure profession,” she says. “But now that I’ve had this experience, I know this is definitely what I want to do.”

Her hard work has certainly paid off. This semester, Indik secured another internship for course credit working in the archives at Laurel Hill Cemetery.

“I tell people I’m majoring in American Studies, and they ask what am I going to do with that?” she says. “I’m pretty optimistic now.”

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