Memories of 9/11/01 and Blessed Pope John Paul II's New Orleans Visit on September 11 - 13, 1987
Pic: Clarion Herald, December 10, 1987, Archbishop Philip Hannan, Maria, Maria-Therese and Keith John Paul Horcasitas at booksigning
9/11 will always be associated with what happened at the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and almost at the US Capitol. And, as was noted on many bumper stickers, “We Will Never Forget!” - for all those who were injured or who perished that day of September 11, 2001; I pray for all those departed and for their families and friends.
So as the 11th anniversary for that tragic event is coming up and I'm somewhat subdued, I'm also recalling, in hope, another memory associated with 9/11: Blessed Pope John Paul II's (BPJP II) historic visit to New Orleans in 1987 from 9/11 - 9/13, which makes it the 25th Anniversary this year! As BPJP II promoted at the beginning and the end of his papacy, which still carries over to us: “Be Not Afraid.”
Long before that September 11th touch down from BPJP II's plane, Shepherd I, at the New Orleans International Airport where the pontiff was warmly greeted by the late and revered Archbishop Philip M. Hannan and “Southern Hospitality,” I remember how excited and ecstatic I felt in anticipation of the first time I would be in close proximity of the leader for the Roman Catholic Church to which I belong!
Since I like to use my full name, even professionally, as “Keith John Paul Horcasitas,” I used to tease people that I was a “pope” before JP I or JP II, as my Baptism name is John for the late Pope John XXIII who was reigning when I was born, and my Confirmation name that I took in the late 1960's is Paul for Pope Paul VI. When I was completing my graduate studies in Social Work in 1984, I made sure to include my full name on my MSW diploma and have proudly done so professionally since then, as BPJP II has been my hero since he was elevated to the papacy! Both my wife and I were so inspired by BPJP II that we named our third child after him, “JP!”
It was neat to be reminded last year on the 10th anniversary of my first musical cd, “The Promised Rainbow: The Covenant For Life,” that I dedicated it to BPJP II . I still have an Advocate newspaper picture on our refrigerator from 02/15/2001, when my first batch of these cds were delivered to our house, which coincidentally depicted a random beautiful rainbow pic in the paper that day – and the First Scriptural Reading in the Catholic Church for that day was Genesis 9: 1-13, which denoted the rainbow covenant sign that was given by God to Noah! The first song from that cd, “The Promised Rainbow,” which I had recorded at Kenny Kleinpeter's studio, was dedicated to BPJP II and how he inspired me then to deal with some past dark episodes in my own life.
It has been very revealing to recall BPJP II's first visit ever to New Orleans back in 1987. We lived in the Uptown area of that city back then, so we were close to the Archdiocese of New Orleans, where then Archbishop Philip M. Hannan, who died after last September 29th at the age of 98, resided and hosted the pope for the visit. It was so exciting to go by the adjacent Notre Dame Seminary area and to get a quick glance of BPJP II.
Since I had been an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion back then through our church parish, the Most Holy Name of Jesus, I had the wonderful opportunity to be able to assist with PJP II's Outdoor Mass that was held on the campus of UNO! With over 130,000 worshipers in attendance, it was a special privilege to participate in helping with the distribution of the Holy Eucharist to some of the participants. How can I forget the deluge of rain that came on us briefly before the Mass started and then quickly ended as BPJP II was driven up to the Outdoor Altar in the “Pope Mobile!”
My wife and I have a special remembrance from the pope's New Orleans visit per a book, His Holiness PJP II Visits The City of New Orleans, that Archbishop Hannan completed covering all of the main events of the trip, including the Outdoor Mass at UNO, Mass at St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter, a “Mardi Gras” like parade down Canal Street, events at the packed Superdome, and gatherings at Xavier University.
We also have a picture from the “Clarion Herald,” the New Orleans Archdiocesan newspaper, in December, 1987 depicting my wife and I with our daughter, Maria-Therese, getting a signature from Archbishop Hannan when the book came out. It was funny to note how the NO Saints football team had their then best record of 12-3 after BPJP II's September visit in 1987, which many of us “Aints” attributed to the intercession of the pope; I'm sure that carried over till 2009 when they won their first Super Bowl!
BPJP II and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta have always been my modern heroes and role models for demonstrating how to live and die as a Christian. It was such a privilege to be a contemporary with them as they both so clearly showed how to be faithful to the challenge of “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Mt. 25: 40) I have no doubt that since both of them have been declared as “Blessed,” it would not be a surprise to me if they were both canonized in the very near future on the same day!
There have been many wonderful books and accounts written about our beloved BPJP II, including George Weigel's compelling Official Biography of the pontiff, Witness to Hope. Last year, per the local Community Catholic Radio station, WPYR, 1380AM, I heard about some neat special stories that Joan Lewis, EWTN’s Bureau Chief, had compiled from church prelates and others who have had their own personal encounters with BPJP II.
Ms. Lewis, in anticipation then of his May 1st Beatification last year, noted how the vast majority of people she'd interviewed for that project were so touched by BPJP II's leadership, prayer life, humanity and humor. To this day, I firmly believe that both BPJP II and then President Ronald Reagan were clearly the main driving forces for helping to bring down the Berlin Wall and to promoting religious liberties.
Thank you, BPJP II for such an inspiring life and death – you showed me and all of us so poignantly how to live and die for the faith! I will always treasure that announcement on October 16, 1978: “Habemus Papam (We have a Pope!) - Carol Wojtyla,” and I look forward to the day of your canonization! 9/11 may certainly have many difficult memories but also some which engender hope and meaning - like the rainbow for life; I will never forget either one.
Keith John Paul Horcasitas, LCSW, MHA, 1133 Knollhaven Drive, BRLA 70810, khorcasitas.yahoo.com, August 19, 2012.