‘Totally humble’: The day a future saint came to visit San Antonio

350,000 Catholics gathered for mass presided over by then-Pope John Paul II. No larger crowd has ever been recorded in Texas.

SAN ANTONIO — September 13 marks one of San Antonio’s most historic days, its ripple effects still being felt 35 years later. 

During this week in 1987, Pope John Paul II celebrated the largest mass in Texas history San Antonio—marking a transformative moment for the city. 

On Sept. 13 of that year, Pope John Paul II arrived in the Alamo City, making his way through a crowd of 350,000 spectators on the northwest side. To date, that remains the biggest crowed ever recorded in the history of the Lone Star State. 

Riding in the Popemobile with then-Archbishop Patrick Flores at his side, the future Catholic saint waved at the faithful massed who had waited for hours in the sweltering heat to be in the presence of the Holy Father.

After the two-hour mass, the pope traveled through downtown where thousands more lined the streets as he passed the Alamo on his way to San Fernando Cathedral for another service.

Bishop Mike Boulette was the priest in charge of hospitality for the pope and his entourage during their 22-hour visit.

“We did 24 events in 23 locations in 22 hours,” Boulette recalled, adding he didn’t sleep for 48 hours during the visit.

The appearance of the spiritual leader of more than a billion Catholics was a turning point for San Antonio.

“The city of San Antonio as a whole was changing dramatically. It was becoming not just the wonderful little city that it was, but now a wonderful kind of worldwide city; something bigger than itself,” Boulette said. 

“People were amazed that the archbishop had the audacity to invite the Holy father to San Antonio, Texas, and that he came and we showed that we can do it.”

Pope John Paul II surprised Boulette by inviting him to dinner. The next day, as part of his duties, he tidied the pontiff’s room

“His dopp kit, you know, his toiletry kit. it looked like he had used it since he was a seminarian. It was leather, (and) I desperately wanted to go buy him one,” Boulette said. “But of course, the Secret Service wouldn’t let me out of the building. So it was just one the things. He was totally humble and totally beautiful, totally saintly.”

Twenty-four years after his visit to San Antonio, Pope John Paul II was beatified as a saint. A statute and relic of his blood now stand in San Fernando Cathedral, where the foundation he laid here carries on.

“None of us can look back at the past only to revel in it, but rather to be energized by it,” Boulette said. “Consider all the way and the places in which we have seen Archbishop Gustavo (Garcia-Siller), attending to the needs of everyone. The pope’s message to serve others and those most in need, it moves us beyond ourselves.”

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