My introduction to the papal flag — see Foundations of Faith (July 2) — came on Sept. 15, 1987. That year, St. John Paul II visited Los Angeles for two days. His visit included a 7.2-mile parade through Los Angeles.
I was there, along with 300,000 other people. We saw pope behind bulletproof glass in the pope-mobile. I had joined a bus trip from a largely Hispanic parish, St. John Vianney in Hacienda Heights. We were dropped off in as area of Vietnamese restaurants and shops downtown and handed yellow and white papal flags.
As I held my flag with its papal keys on it, I was struck by how universal our church is. Here I was, a person from Wisconsin, with a busload of others, in the middle of brightly-colored Southeast Asian shops with a Polish-born pope zooming by in a German-made vehicle (Mercedes Benz). It didn’t seem to matter to anyone that we didn’t speak the same language or carry the same holy cards and prayer aides or even pray the same prayers. What mattered was that we were together, enjoying a unique moment in spiritual life.
And it was not just unique spiritually. The news later reported that crime in L.A. dropped during that papal visit. The Los Angeles police had expected otherwise and called together 5,800 officers.
As the LAPD posted: “Interestingly enough, during the 47 hours the pope was in Los Angeles, there was a decline of almost 50% in bookings at local jails. One murder was recorded. This elicited the following comment from Police Chief (Daryl) Gates: ‘There was a sense of calm that came to the city. People had time to reflect on what life is all about and maybe some felt there was more to life than committing crime’ (lapdonline.org).”
The papal flag is a symbol, but it reminds me of a deeper reality.