Pope John Paul II, beginning a two-day visit to the nation's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese, landed in Los Angeles on Tuesday and repeatedly urged his followers to yield not to the temptations so often found in this capital of popular culture.
Welcomed by a warmly enthusiastic but smaller-than-expected crowd of between 150,000 and 250,000 that lined a 7.2-mile motorcade route, the Pope enjoyed an almost flawlessly planned day, delayed only by slow security checks at a huge evening Mass.
Surprisingly, Los Angeles motorists also had few distractions. The low turnout for the mid-morning motorcade--about one-tenth the size that officials of the Los Angeles archdiocese had hoped for--allowed traffic on downtown freeways and streets to function normally.
On a day that took him from the fast-growing Asian neighborhoods near downtown Los Angeles to the glitter of Universal City to the Memorial Coliseum, the Pope time and again brandished the same message: resist the corrosions of the secular world.
To 1,200 people inside St. Vibiana's Cathedral, he urged Catholics to uphold traditional morality even at the expense of ridicule--a task that he acknowledged was difficult in a society "that is indifferent, if not hostile, to Christian morality."
To 6,000 exuberant youths at the Universal Amphitheater, who greeted the 67-year-old pontiff as though he were a rock star, he preached a doctrine of hope. "We have to aspire to something," he said, alluding to the tragedy of teen-age suicide and the moral ambivalence so often associated with it. "Without hope, we begin to die."
To 1,500 of the nation's most powerful news media and entertainment executives, he issued the challenge of shaping society's spiritual health by resisting "what is debased in people," such as casual attitudes toward sex, greed and violence.
Finally, to more than 100,000 people who filled the Coliseum for an evening Mass that brought a sense of majesty to the aging structure reminiscent of the 1984 Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies, the Pope said the people of California "play a major role in shaping the culture of the United States." But he called on them to recognize that "no amount of economic, scientific or social progress can eradicate our vulnerability to sin and to death.
"Technology, for example, increases what we can do, but it cannot teach us the right thing to do," he said.
Although Los Angeles Archbishop Roger M. Mahony had hoped for a motorcade turnout of 2 million and Police Chief Daryl F. Gates had hoped for 1 million, the city Department of Transportation's lower estimate followed the pattern of smaller-than-expected crowds that have turned up in the first six stops of the Pope's nine-city American tour.
The cause remained uncertain. Well-publicized fear of traffic congestion was blamed in many cities, but a policeman on duty on Olympic Boulevard, where the turnout was sporadic, offered an indigenous explanation: "People in L.A, they're so laid back they're probably saying, 'Well, I'll videotape it and watch it later.' "
Many commuters were so frightened by warnings of potential gridlock that they left for work hours early, a California Highway Patrol spokeswoman said.
The pontiff, who visited Los Angeles as Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, Poland, in 1976--two years before he ascended to the papacy--landed at Los Angeles International Airport at 9:45 a.m. from Phoenix.
A limousine took him to Western Avenue near the Santa Monica Freeway, where he changed to the Jeep-like, enclosed Popemobile and headed through Koreatown, the downtown Civic Center and Chinatown.
Many of those who awaited him had risen before dawn, lugged chairs, sandwiches and coffee to curb sides and passed hours during a balmly if smoggy morning anticipating the Popemobile. They hoisted signs in English, Spanish, Korean, Chinese and Polish and released tens of thousands of yellow and white balloons--the Vatican's colors--into the air as the pontiff passed.
Some came in festive groups, ranging from an international peace choir to a group of Spanish guitarists to a band of Boy Scouts to 500 costumed Mexican cowboys to 1,500 Catholic Vietnamese.
There was literally a police officer on every corner--in most cases, every 50 feet. The Los Angeles Police Department stationed 1,900 of its officers, more than a quarter of the force, throughout the motorcade.
Only one skirmish was reported. At Western Avenue and 18th Street in Koreatown, a group of people holding a large banner decrying the Pope as a "tool of Satan" scuffled with supporters of the Pope. Dozens of police intervened, and the banner was eventually shredded.
Along the route, the Pope returned the cheers of the crowd with gentle waves and smiles.
Trying to anticipate the Pope's penchant for getting close to people in spite of security precautions, the faithful jammed themselves most densely near the end of the route and at the beginning, hoping that the Pope would slow the Popemobile and stay within sight--and possibly within reach.
On Western Avenue and downtown, the people stood 10 to 15 deep, thicker than at any point on the Pope's U.S. visit.
Many of those who came spoke of the spiritual power that drew them.
Yolanda Aguayo, a young El Monte woman, arrived at the corner of 1st and Los Angeles streets downtown at 4 a.m.
"I feel happy. I feel excited," she said, holding a yellow balloon. "I feel like crying, really. I can't explain it.
"He brings us closer to the church," said Aguayo, adding that she now thinks she may resume regular attendance at a Catholic church. "He wants to get closer to us. He's not just someone you see on TV. He comes to the people."
The motorcade ended near St. Vibiana's, and the Pope entered from the rear.
Necks craned in the dark wooden pews as he walked slowly up the center aisle, accepting greetings from some of the guests, who included government dignitaries, lay church leaders, retired priests, nuns and representatives of Catholic hospitals and other institutions. He allowed admirers to clasp or kiss his hands, and he sometimes placed a palm gently on their foreheads.
In both his prepared text and in informal remarks at St. Vibiana's, the Pope referred to the diverse races and ethnic minorities of Los Angeles.
"In all these people, I could see all the countries, all the nations of the world," he said, concluding, "God bless Los Angeles."
A woman's voice from the audience said loudly, "God bless you, Holy Father."
The Pope, uncertain what she had said, asked Archbishop Mahony. Then he responded, "Thank you for your blessing."
Later, he added, "All of us, the Pope especially . . . need the blessing of the people of God."
In his remarks to the St. Vibiana's audience about resisting the secular world's influence, the Pope also reaffirmed his well-known desire to rein in liberal churchmen. He remarked that the need for Catholics to stand their ground is critical to "the clergy . . . who may sometimes find it difficult to speak the full truth of the church's teaching because it is a 'hard saying' that many will not readily accept."
The Pope rested for two hours, then flew by helicopter to the Universal Amphitheater, where he addressed young people here and many more who were watching by satellite from St. Louis, Denver and Portland, Ore.
"We love you !" the youths in the Amphitheater chanted with vigor that was in sharp contrast to a comparatively sedate audience of teen-agers the Pope faced in New Orleans.
The session with the young people, aged 15 to 25, produced the Pope's most relaxed moments of the day. He answered several questions from them, drawing cheers with each nuance of humor or spontaneity--particularly his insistent, Spanish-spoken comment that he wanted to continue after the scheduled 60-minute time limit had been reached.
In his prepared remarks, the Pope spoke with unusual candor about the frequently asked question of why he became a priest.
"It is impossible to explain entirely," he said. "For it remains a mystery, even to myself."
After his dialogue with the youngsters, the Pope was driven to a nearby hotel, where he fervently lectured media moguls and movie stars against the naked pursuit of success.
He called on them to consider how they portray society's most defenseless--the handicapped, the elderly, the unattractive, the lonely. "Whom do you depict as having--or not having--human worth?" he asked.
He also asked them to look at their own lives.
"Do not let money be your sole concern, for it too is capable of enslaving art as well as souls," he said in his prepared text. The lure of profit "places you under extreme pressure to be successful, without telling you what 'success' really is. Working constantly with images, you face the temptation of seeing them as reality."
The Pope's Coliseum Mass was flawed when security checks at the entrances forced thousands to wait in long lines for up to three hours. The Coliseum was still nearly half-empty when the pre-Mass celebration began at 5 p.m. Each person was required to go through a metal detector. Purses, binoculars, coolers and radios were all hand checked.
Despite the delays, all members of the audience were seated by the time the Mass began.
In his homily at the Coliseum Mass, the pontiff soberly reminded the audience to be obedient to the teachings of the church.
After the Mass and long after John Paul was back at St. Vibiana's, idling buses waiting to transport thousands of worshipers home expelled so much exhaust that Fire Department paramedics treated 51 people who complained of fumes and six were taken to hospitals. No serious injuries were reported.