Pope John Paul II drew thousands to his San Antonio mass in 1987 – mySA

The Chisme is a new culture series looking at San Antonio’s fun facts, useless trivia, and, of course, local chisme of varying degrees.

Local residents get plenty excited any time a celebrity rolls into town and gives us a shoutout on social media, but there are lots of famous faces that have visited San Antonio through the years. In addition to Queen Elizabeth II, the Polish-born and world known Pope John Paul II also spent some time in the Alamo City, marking a pope’s only visit to Texas.

Droves of San Antonians and no doubt Texans near and far came out to celebrate a Catholic mass with Pope John Paul II on September 13, 1987. Instead of being inside a church, more than 350,000 people (including my mom, who was pregnant with my older sister at the time) got to experience the ceremony in a large area of undeveloped land where Northside ISD’s Stevens High School is located today.

Thousands of worshipers gather at Westover Hills to listen to Pope John Paul II celebrate Mass Sunday, Sept. 13, 1987, during his visit to San Antonio.

Thousands of worshipers gather at Westover Hills to listen to Pope John Paul II celebrate Mass Sunday, Sept. 13, 1987, during his visit to San Antonio.

San Antonio Express-News file photo

The mass required intense preparation, which had some bumps after high winds destroyed the original temporary altar just days before the event. The once-in-a-lifetime mass lasted about two and a half hours, during which the pontiff called San Antonio a “crossroads” in relation to the U.S.-Mexico border. He encouraged residents present to “show mercy” to immigrants from Mexico.

Though his visit lasted 22 hours, the San Antonio stop was jam-packed. Pope John Paul II, who held the title from 1978 until his death in 2005, arrived without a hitch that same day, landing at Kelly Air Force Base. There, he was greeted by mariachi music and San Antonio’s longtime Archbishop Patrick Flores, who knelt down to kiss the pontiff’s hand and accompanied him during his visit.

Archbishop Patrick Flores kneels down and kisses Pope John Paul's II hand as he gets off the airplane at Kelly AFB, in San Antonio, in September 1987.

Archbishop Patrick Flores kneels down and kisses Pope John Paul’s II hand as he gets off the airplane at Kelly AFB, in San Antonio, in September 1987.

San Antonio Express-News file photo

In addition to the Texas-sized mass, Pope John Paul II was driven in his “pope mobile” along a parade route where spectators were able to see the religious figure up close. He was driven through parts of the Westside and downtown. Photos show him in front of the Alamo before celebrating a second, smaller service at San Fernando Cathedral.

Pope John Paul II rides past the Alamo during his visit to San Antonio Sunday, Sept. 13, 1987.

Pope John Paul II rides past the Alamo during his visit to San Antonio Sunday, Sept. 13, 1987.

San Antonio Express-News file photo

Pope John Paul II prays in front of a crowd at Guadalupe Plaza Sunday, Sept. 13, 1987 during his visit to San Antonio.

Pope John Paul II prays in front of a crowd at Guadalupe Plaza Sunday, Sept. 13, 1987 during his visit to San Antonio.

San Antonio Express-News file photo

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