They Share an Experience on Papal Route : Worlds Apart, 2 Families Come Together in Faith

Times Staff Writer

Two families came to the city before daybreak Tuesday and waited for the Pope to roll by. One was a big, rollicking band of Irish Catholics, the other a small, somewhat shy Filipino family. For more than five hours they camped side by side along Broadway, separated only by the slender trunk of a ficus tree.

The families did not know each other when the day began, and they did not know each other when it ended. They rarely even spoke to each other, which was unfortunate. For had they become acquainted, the Tuckers and Molinas would have discovered that--though they were of different cultures, different postal zones, different incomes--they nonetheless shared more than a spot of shade and 15 feet of grimy sidewalk.

One Fleeting Moment

They shared, for instance, the same religious heritage and the same degree of loyalty to the man who devout Catholics believe is the Vicar of Christ. They shared a faith that, in one fleeting moment of closeness, Pope John Paul II could make things a little better for their families. They also shared an experience.

"He is a man, but he is also the Pope, the Vicar of Christ," said Cora Lee Tucker, the 57-year-old matriarch of the family that huddled on the north side of the tree.

The first few family members had arrived at 5:30 a.m., staking claim to a section of sidewalk with a patchwork of beach blankets. The sky was black then, and the street was still being patrolled by panhandlers, hobos and other shabby sentries of the night. Hours later, when the Pope zipped by, the ranks of the extended family would be expanded to about 20, most of them young children.

"I felt it was important to bring the family here," said the grandmother. Having raised seven children--delivered within seven years--Tucker and her husband, an attorney, now live on a boat in Marina del Ray and attend Mass daily. "It was important," she said, "to have three generations represented today. We try to teach them to be good Catholics and to believe in the Pope, but if their grandparents don't show an interest, why should they?"

On the opposite side of the tree, Frank and Lilian Molina also spoke of children. The Molinas hope their 12-year-old son, Lawrence, will become a Catholic priest. He has other ideas. He wants to be a pilot, and every time the word priest was uttered, the boy would respond by shaking his head no.

'Sacrifice for a Mother'

"Having a boy become a priest is a big sacrifice for a mother," Lilian Molina said. "But we've said a lot of prayers. I just pray he has the vocation."

Did the Molinas believe the Pope's passing might light a priestly fire in the boy?

"That's the plan," Frank Molina said, flashing a wink.

The Molinas, both 37 years old, run a boarding home in the San Fernando Valley for a dozen mentally retarded adults. They both came as teen-agers from the Philippines and trace their Catholic roots back to the time of Magellan.

"I look at the Pope as St. Peter himself," Frank Molina said.

"I feel he was chosen by the Holy Spirit," Lilian Molina said.

Clearly, this piece of sidewalk was no place for doubters Tuesday morning.

The Molinas had arrived at 6 a.m. Along with the parents and son, there was a 67-year-old aunt who spoke no English and a 4-year-old daughter, Feliz.

"She has been telling me we are going to go to heaven to see the Pope," Molina said of his daughter. "When we reached downtown, I told her we were going to see the Pope now and she said, 'Is this heaven?' "

The crowd built slowly during the first two hours of light. Free balloons were distributed by the Knights of Columbus and were tethered to lengths of rope the police had strung along the curb. An ever-increasing patrol of souvenir vendors worked the sidewalks. By the end of the morning, the Tuckers and Molinas together would have contributed more than $200 to the memento industry.

The children were frisky at first. Jennifer Tucker Parker, a 13-year-old who like her 6-year-old sister, Mary, had come dressed in her plaid parochial school uniform, was full of opinions about the abundance and expense of security measures for the papal tour, which she found appalling, and John Paul's positions on birth control, which she found objectionable.

Still, Jennifer let it be known, she was in the Pope's corner.

"He's a good guy," she declared. "It takes a lot of courage to do what he does. There's a lot of people who don't like Catholics, and a lot of people who don't like what he says. So it takes courage to go out there and say what he believes, and if they don't like it, tough toenails."

There was not much to do but make small talk. At 10:30 a.m., Pat Johnston, a 41-year-old attorney related through marriage to the Tuckers, found himself standing next to Frank Molina.

"It's like being on a fishing boat," he remarked, a reference to early rising followed by a tedious wait.

Molina chuckled.

"Well," he said, "the biggest fisherman of them all is on his way."

For the first and last time, the two families had spoken. The men smiled and returned their attentions to their sides of the tree. The Pope was half an hour away.

The crowd was kept abreast of the Pope's movements by the crew of a television truck parked on the sidewalk behind the tree. The Pope was at the airport. The Pope was at the firehouse. The motorcade had started. The Pope was at Figueroa and Olympic. The Pope was a few blocks away.

The kids of the Tucker clan, who in the last hour had seemed to sag, laying their heads on the police rope, now shot to their feet. Little Feliz Molina was mounted on her father's shoulders. "Wow," she said.

The Tuckers began to sing a hymn. Twenty-five motorcycles roared past. Three black security vans followed.

And then came the Pope.

Mouths Agape in Wonder

It was all so fast. The Pope looked to his right, away from the side of the street where the Tuckers and Molinas stood and then to the left. It was not possible to tell if he looked directly at the two families. If he did, John Paul played witness to 25 people leaning over ropes, mouths agape in wonder.

"He is so cute," one of the Tucker girls screamed.

And then he was gone, looking from behind like a wax museum piece, unreal. There was excited jabbering in his wake.

"It's like a power booster to your faith," said Frank Molina.

"I hope he comes back every year; I hope he comes to our house," said Lilian Molina.

"I'm still not sure I want to be a priest," said Lawrence Molina.

"It was more impressive than I thought it would be," said Cora Lee Tucker, her face flushed.

"She was crying," said one of her daughters.

"He represents everything we believe in," said Jennifer.

It took only minutes to break camp. The trash was picked up, the blankets folded and the lawn chairs slung over shoulders for the short walk back to the parking lot.

The bells of St. Vibiana's began to peal 15 minutes later, signaling the Pope's arrival at the cathedral, but by then the Tuckers and the Molinas had already slipped back into the anonymity of the city, unaware that for five hours they had shared most everything they believe.

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