Arrival Speech of Pope John Paul II
St. Louis, MO - January 26, 1999
Dear People of St. Louis, dear People of the United States,
1. It is a great joy for me to return to the United States and to experience
once more your warm hospitality.
As you know, I have been in Mexico, to celebrate the conclusion of the
Special Assembly for America of the Synod of Bishops. The purpose of that
important Meeting was to prepare the Church to enter the new Millennium and to
encourage a new sense of solidarity among the peoples of the continent. Now I am
happy to be able to bring this message to Mid-America, on the banks of the
Mississippi, in this historic city of St. Louis, the Gateway to the West.
I am grateful to you, Mr. President, for your courtesy in meeting me on my
arrival. I likewise greet the Governor and authorities of the State of Missouri,
as well as the Mayor of St. Louis and the other officials of the City and
surrounding areas. So many people have offered their generous cooperation in
preparation for this visit, and I am grateful to them all.
2. As Pastor of the universal Church, I am particularly happy to greet the
Catholic community of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, with its rich spiritual
heritage and its dynamic traditions of service to those in need. I wish to say a
special word of appreciation to Archbishop Justin Rigali, who has been close to
me since I became Pope twenty years ago. I am looking forward to being with the
priests, deacons, religious and laity of this local Church, which has exercised
such influence on the history of the Midwest.
With deep thanks I greet the Cardinals and Bishops. Their presence gives me
an opportunity to send my good wishes to the whole Province of St. Louis and its
ecclesiastical Region, and to all the Dioceses of this country. Although St.
Louis is the only place I am able to visit at this time, I feel close to all the
Catholics of the United States.
I express my friendship and esteem for my fellow Christians, for the Jewish
community in America, for our Muslim brothers and sisters. I express my cordial
respect for people of all religions and for every person of good will.
3. As history is retold, the name of St. Louis will be forever linked to the
first transatlantic flight, and to the immense human endeavor and daring behind
the name: the "Spirit of St. Louis".
You are preparing for the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase made in 1804
by President Thomas Jefferson. That anniversary presents a challenge of
religious and civic renewal to the entire community. It will be the opportunity
to reassert the "Spirit of St. Louis" and to reaffirm the genuine truths and
values of the American experience.
There are times of trial, tests of national character, in the history of
every country. America has not been immune to them. One such time of trial is
closely connected with St. Louis. Here, the famous Dred Scott case was heard.
And in that case the Supreme Court of the United States subsequently declared an
entire class of human beings – people of African descent – outside the
boundaries of the national community and the Constitution’s protection.
After untold suffering and with enormous effort, that situation has, at least
in part, been reversed.
America faces a similar time of trial today. Today, the conflict is between a
culture that affirms, cherishes, and celebrates the gift of life, and a culture
that seeks to declare entire groups of human beings – the unborn, the terminally
ill, the handicapped, and others considered "unuseful" – to be outside the
boundaries of legal protection. Because of the seriousness of the issues
involved, and because of America’s great impact on the world as a whole, the
resolution of this new time of testing will have profound consequences for the
century whose threshold we are about to cross. My fervent prayer is that through
the grace of God at work in the lives of Americans of every race, ethnic group,
economic condition and creed, America will resist the culture of death and
choose to stand steadfastly on the side of life. To choose life – as I wrote in
this year’s Message for the World Day of Peace – involves rejecting every form
of violence: the violence of poverty and hunger, which oppresses so many human
beings; the violence of armed conflict, which does not resolve but only
increases divisions and tensions; the violence of particularly abhorrent weapons
such as anti-personnel mines; the violence of drug trafficking; the violence of
racism; and the violence of mindless damage to the natural environment.
Only a higher moral vision can motivate the choice for life. And the values
underlying that vision will greatly depend on whether the nation continues to
honor and revere the family as the basic unit of society: the family – teacher
of love, service, understanding and forgiveness; the family – open and generous
to the needs of others; the family – the great wellspring of human happiness.
4. Mr. President, dear friends: I am pleased to have another opportunity to
thank the American people for the countless works of human goodness and
solidarity which, from the beginning, have been such a part of the history of
your country. At the same time I know that you will hear my plea to open wide
your hearts to the ever increasing plight and urgent needs of our less fortunate
brothers and sisters throughout the world.
This too – the spirit of compassion, concern and generous sharing – must be
part of the "Spirit of St. Louis". Even more, it must be the renewed spirit of
this "one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all." God bless you
all! God bless America!