Covering a pope: You can’t make this up

Pope John Paul II, now a saint, celebrated Mass outdoors with Canada's First Nations in September 1987. (CNS photo/Brad Reynolds, S.J.)

Pope John Paul II, now a saint, celebrated Mass outdoors with Canada’s First Nations in September 1987. (CNS photo/Brad Reynolds, S.J.)

By Barb Fraze, international editor

First in a series

If a Hollywood producer had written a script, movie-goers would have said, “That would never happen.”

Yet what I witnessed 350 miles south of the Arctic Circle could have been an early sign that Pope John Paul II was special and might one day be a saint.

Catholic News Service Rome bureau staffers always get to cover papal trips, yet, as Pope Francis’ visit approached, we in Washington began thinking about our favorite moments of when we got to cover popes. No one in our newsroom is a papal rookie, so we agreed to share some of our stories.

Pope John Paul had been scheduled to visit Canada’s First Nations in 1984, during a multi-city trip to Canada, but he had to cancel because of fog. The Polish pope promised he would return, so he tacked on a visit at the end of his 1987 trip to the United States.

Pope John Paul II's altar platform included a giant teepee. (CNS photo/Brad Reynolds, S.J.)

Pope John Paul II’s altar platform included a giant teepee. (CNS photo/Brad Reynolds, S.J.)

Fort Simpson is a remote town in the Northwest Territories, and the papal Mass site was outdoors, at the intersection of the Mackenzie and Liard rivers. Most journalists flew in by plane — the “bigger plane” added from Yellowknife was a DC-3 — but First Nations members arrived by helicopter and canoe. The very few hotel rooms in the city were taken by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., so international journalists bunked in the ranger barracks and walked the mile along the river to the Mass site.

On the morning of the pope’s scheduled arrival, I could sense angst: Once again, it was rainy and foggy. We waited in the press tent near the altar platform with the teepee, wondering if, once again, the visit would be canceled. About the time Pope John Paul’s plane was scheduled to land, right on cue, the rain stopped. And, when his car pulled up to the Mass site — I kid you not — the clouds parted and a rainbow appeared in the sky.

Pope John Paul met with the First Nations leaders, who then met with press while the pope celebrated Mass laden with native American symbolism. The people were happy — they had planned and waited and hoped for years.

And, after several nights of watching, we journalists finally got to witness the spectacle of the Northern Lights — possibly another little miracle from the magnetic Pole who had visited that day.

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Follow Barb Fraze on Twitter: @BFraze.

One Response

  1. Be blessed, even more, if you want.

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