The Papal Visit : Thousands of Reverent, Curious Line Route : Motorcade Rolls Through Streets of Joy

Times Staff Writers

Their progress marked by the rippling flights of yellow and white balloons, the Popemobile and its beaming, white-robed passenger sailed through seven miles of Los Angeles' streets Tuesday, flanked all the way--through high-tech and low-income vistas--by singing, cheering thousands of faithful.

From his arrival, when drivers on the San Diego Freeway pulled over to snap pictures of Pope John Paul II's motorcade speeding toward the parade start point, to the moment he descended from the Popemobile at St. Vibiana's Cathedral 40 minutes later with a final wave, the Pope was greeted with fond respect and near-tearful reverence. The throngs ranged from 20 joyous Franciscan sisters who won the convent lottery to attend, to a teen-age girl holding up a white cloth reading, "The Pope is cool."

"It's like liquor for some," said a thrilled shoe warehouseman, Raul Diaz de Leon, 53, standing on Broadway. "The more you drink, the drunker you get. I think we are drunk on the Pope."

At a McDonald's on Western Avenue, early breakfasters crossed themselves and prayed over their Egg McMuffins. In Chinatown, Altadena schoolgirls were selling papal miters fashioned from newspapers for 25 cents to earn money for Pope pennants. A group of 20 Boyle Heights parishioners walked the five or six miles to the motorcade route at 3 a.m. because "we believe in sacrifice."

The turnout, of somewhere between 150,000 and 250,000 people, in the city where the famous sign read "HOLYWOOD" for a few hours, did not meet the archdiocese's 2-million hope. But it evidently bested the 100,000 record, when one Angeleno in 12 turned out in 1935 for President Franklin D. Roosevelt's seven-mile motorcade.

Robert Snow, a Secret Service agent who had been along for five previous stops in the Pope's tour, called it "amazing . . . is there some kind of holiday today?"

People climbed atop anything for a good vantage point--low buildings, bus shelters--and at least one took the example of Zacchaeus, a short man who climbed a sycamore to get a good look at Christ, and clambered into a tree.

But Joyce Hallstead, a teacher who celebrated her 26th birthday by going to see the Pope, said, "More people show up at the Rose Bowl for football players than here for the Pope."

Parade route figures were swelled by organized church outings from most of the archdiocese's 284 parishes, coveys of excited nuns and priests, hundreds of children--some carried in arms--and more than a few people in wheelchairs or on crutches.

Felicita Lopez, 48, of Commerce, laid out a curb-side array of items for a papal blessing--two crucifixes, a ceramic dove and 17 pebble-sized gallstones that were removed from her in July.

'God Healed Me'

"These stones are proof that God healed me when I was sick," she said. "It may look crazy to bring gallstones, but I would have been very sick if they were still inside me instead of this bottle."

From her wheelchair at the corner of 1st and Main streets, Beatriz Perez of Pico Rivera tried to explain what the Pope meant to her, and began to sob. "Dispenseme (excuse me)," she murmured. "It means everything to her," said her son, Anthony.

Still, though the crowds were thin in spots, enthusiasm was unflagging, both inside the Popemobile, where the Pope waved ceaselessly to the crowd, and on the route that wound through a carefully selected core sample of the city: black and Latino, Korean, Chinese and Japanese, Yuppie, big business and lower-income, Catholic and non-Catholic.

Thomas F. Tanabe of Monterey Park, a retired Caltrans worker, came out of curiosity. "I'm a Methodist, but not a very good one. . . . I came so that I can say, 'Well, I've seen him,' " he said as he peeled two dollars out of his billfold so his niece could buy a Pope button.

Feast for the Senses

Parking lot attendant Quy Tran, 22, is a Buddhist, but "to me Buddhism and Catholic is the same. They both teach good things."

If John Paul II, accompanied by lanky Archbishop Roger M. Mahony and papal secretary Stanislaus Dziwisz, could hear through the Lexigard panels of the Popemobile, the trip was a feast for the senses:

There was the bleating of football-game horns, an accordion leading dazzlingly costumed Polish-Americans in hymns, the sprightly tunes of roadside mariachis, the tinny chiming of Hare Krishna finger cymbals, the rhythmic chanting "Viva el Papa, " fidgety Gardena children singing "Jingle Bells" as they waited--and the thwap thwap of a vigilant helicopter.

There was the fragrance of hot dogs, churros--Mexican pastries--and coffee. At Pasquini's, a cafe and espresso-machine importer on Olympic Boulevard, Angelo Pasquini was pouring bargain cups for 25 cents, delighted at his curb-side spot. "I lived in Italy for 25 years, but I had to come here to see the Pope. I'd seen everybody else--Hitler, Mussolini hanging in the square in Milan."

Colorful Confetti

For the eyes, there were colorful flurries of confetti, of carnations and rose petals. In the Civic Center, 11-year-old Sean R. Ayala stood dressed in scaled-down papal robes, carrying a sign reading "I am the future," and attended by nine young "angels" with golden wings.

"I got this necktie. And I dressed up to see," declared 60-year-old Arthur Aguilar of Huntington Park, who wept as he added, "I enjoyed it. Really. It hurts me."

As the Popemobile approached Our Lady Queen of Angels Church at the old city plaza, the bells of the historic downtown church began to ring.

Aide Rosales, 60, was waiting at the church--a sanctuary for refugees--wearing a vividly embroidered blouse from her homeland of El Salvador. She had not worn it, she said, since she fled torture and death squads in her country five years ago. "I've been saving this blouse for a special occasion."

Their only complaints were two: the swift motorcade and the long lines at the few available public toilets. "I think we have the only flushing toilet on the block," said Rick Thorley, manager of a McDonald's on Broadway, where people waited in line for 45 minutes to use the bathrooms.

Speedy Motorcade

What really bothered people--especially children--was the speedy passing of what was essentially a one-float parade, although there were 20-plus vehicles in the motorcade. The motorcade took about five minutes less than the 45 allotted for it, its brisk clip at one point seeming to surpass the usual 9- to 12-m.p.h. pace.

As the Pope whizzed past Vermont and Olympic, Gyuchil Song, 34, waiting with his wife and infant son, turned and remarked, "That's it?" Later, reflecting, he said, "I think the Pope must be tired. Too fast, too fast."

On Broadway, 11-year-old Andre Lopez waited for six hours, saw the Pope, then turned to an uncle and asked, "Didn't he drive by kind of fast? Do we go home now?"

El Salvador-born Mauricio Rivas said the Pope "should have slowed down. I called in sick today to see . . . nothing. . . . "

'Like Batman'

At the parade's beginning, the steel door lifted on the fire station where, moments before, the Pope had driven in in a limousine with darkened windows. And out rolled the white Popemobile, its gold rims flashing. "It's like Batman--coming out of the cave," said agent Snow.

And indeed, the Pope was greeted like a super-hero.

Up Western Avenue, where ornately garbed Knights of Columbus--without their swords, on security orders--handed out yellow and white balloons, crowds gathered at dawn, jamming the sidewalks at Washington Boulevard.

It was there, too, where the first of scattered anti-Pope statements took place--a skirmish between onlookers and about 10 people from El Monte who carried a banner reading, "The Pope is not the messenger of peace but the tool of Satan." The brief skirmish was broken up when Police Sgt. Nick Barbara, citing Romans 13, persuaded minister Hermon Lee of the rights of civil authorities to control situations.

Preaching Brimstone

Downtown, an orating Baptist minister from Whittier preached brimstone for an hour to passers-by. In Koreatown, a big yellow banner proclaimed, "Roman Catholicism, The Great Heresy."

Gerald Smith, 25, swept from his accustomed sleeping spot in front of St. Vibiana's Cathedral, complained, "I'm on the street because of the Pope. He's supposed to be giving, but he's not making me feel too cool about him right now."

Even a Protestant supporter of the Pope, "Billy Bible," carrying a yard-high lacquered crucifix, scolded, "Rebels, repent!"

Many Korean businesses on Olympic and shops in Chinatown were closed, at least briefly. "Business is dead, except the camera, except the film (sales)," said Sang Lee, 43, owner of Lee's Discount Drug Store, who says he is "grateful" to the Pope nonetheless for bringing "all the attention to this area, a minority area."

Entrepreneurs on the street complained that business was not exactly booming.

Pope Pennants

Tabb Liechty, a house painter here from Indiana to sell Pope pennants, said: "It doesn't look like we're going to do real well. I tell you what does the best--football."

One good seller was a cartooned "I gotta peek atta da Pope" T-shirts by twins Mark and Mike Taylor, 24--priced at $5 before the Pope got there, "to generate interest," $10 when he arrived. "Some people say he's Polish," Mark said. "Well, he lives in Rome. You can't let it affect your marketing campaign."

Some came to the parade route with great difficulty, but great faith.

Near Olympic and Hoover Street, Gloria Soto arrived at 5 a.m. to get a place for her husband and mother, both in wheelchairs. But her husband felt too ill to show. "We were hit by a drunk driver" in January, she said. "The Pope's visit gives us hope and faith."

Staked Out Bench

Lorenzo Rodarte, 39, his face aglow with joy under his straw cowboy hat, had staked out a park bench near City Hall at 4 a.m.--partly because he knew the public toilets were nearby, and partly because it was in the midst of the hundreds of Polish-Americans and "I thought of (the Pope) stopping here because all of his people are here."

But Rodarte had most wanted to bring his 4-year-old son, who is deaf, mute and uses a respirator. "I wanted to bring him to be blessed, but we couldn't."

Those who took a day off did not lie to their bosses--they said as much in rather offended tones--although two Southern California Gas Co. employees watching the parade told a woman, "We're working." "Don't tell a lie," the woman laughed. "The Pope'll strike you dead."

But the Pope's attention was no doubt held most by the children, like 8-year-old Barbara Sowa of Santa Monica, wearing fake blonde braids with her spangled Polish dance costume.

Ian Miller, a shy 7-year-old, sat perched on one of the blue barrier-barrels on Pico Boulevard. "I came to see the Pope because my mommy wanted me to see him," he said.

And after it was all over, a rapturous 8-year-old, Susan Lopez of Sherman Oaks, turned down an offer to buy her Pope button with a resounding "No way!"

"I got to see him," she sighed. "My heart was beating too fast."

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