Throwback: John Paul II, only pope to visit AZ, held Mass at Sun Devil Stadium

As Pope Francis speaks to worshipers, journalists and a joint session of Congress Thursday in Washington D.C, former Sun Devils may reminisce about the time when former pope, John Paul II, stopped at ASU. 

It was September, 1987 when John Paul visited Sun Devil Stadium and held an evening Mass for more than 75,000 people as part of his tour of the U.S., according to an October, 1987 State Press article. 

This was the first and only time a pope has ever visited Arizona. The former pope also stopped at the pediatric ward at St. Joseph's Hospital & Medical Center and St. Mary’s Basilica in downtown Phoenix.

John Paul also spoke to 16,000 Native Americans at the Tekakwitha Conference before making his final stop at ASU, according to a 12 news article.

The University allegedly charged almost $200,000 for the pontiff's use of Sun Devil Stadium, and all mentions of Sparky and the pitchfork had to be covered in order for the pope to agree to enter the stadium, according to the article.

There were 17 minutes for 600 priests and 500 lay people to serve communion to the 75,000 worshipers, according to the State Press article.

A 65-foot-tall steel and copper-trimmed cross commemorated the theme of the Mass.

“Certainly, the cross of Christ has marked the progress of evangelization in the area since its beginning: from the day, 300 years ago, when Father Eusebio Kino first brought the gospel to Arizona,” the pontiff said during the Mass, according to The State Press at the time.

A baptismal fountain was placed under the cross where 25 people were anointed including Mesa Police Chief Len, who was paralyzed in a traffic accident, according to the State Press article.

After the Mass, the cross was moved to SS. Simon and Jude Cathedral where it stands as a permanent monument to the pope’s visit, according to that State Press article. 

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Reach the news editor at kgrega@asu.edu or follow @kelciegrega on Twitter. 

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