A Pope’s Blessing For Queens
Rutkoff & LIZ GOFF
For New York City’s nearly two million Catholics, Aqueduct Racetrack in
Ozone Park was a place of prayer on Oct. 6, 1995 as Pope John Paul II
held mass before throngs of eager worshippers.
The morning sun beamed down on the 100,000
people who attended the papal mass.
The Pope arrived to the Aqueduct at around 9 a.m. aboard the
bubble-domed vehicle often dubbed the “Popemobile,” but ticket
holders lucky enough to participate in the ceremony began to file into
the racetrack as early as 5 a.m.
A ticket to pray with the Pope
Aqueduct was the hottest ticket around in 1995, and it graced
As many as 700 priests and deacons participated
in the mass, with over 400 distributing Communion to the crowds,
according to Monsignor Otto L. Garcia, the Vicar General and Chancellor
who headed the planning committee for the event.
Tickets were distributed to each parish in the
Brooklyn and Queens Diocese based on a percentage of reported Sunday
Mass attendance. Pope John
Paul II chose to emphasize youth participation at the mass, and
officials said that two-thirds of the tickets distributed to the event
would be earmarked for young people.
In his homily, the Pope said, “The Church
constantly invokes the Holy spirit upon individual communities, and
today we renew that invocation here, at the Aqueduct Racetrack in
Queens,” and asked the crowd, “In the midst of the magnificent
scientific and technological civilization of which America is proud, and
especially here in Queens, in New York, is there room for the mystery of
While the Pope’s presence was a blessing for
the City’s Catholics, it created a logistical nightmare for the Police
Department and federal agencies charged with his safety, especially
since his visit came one week after the sentencing of the 1993 World
Trade Center bombers. Air
space over the areas the Pope visited was closed and special cameras
tracked his every movement.
Officials put the cost of security at around $6
The Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens spent $1.5
million preparing Aqueduct for the visit, which included the
construction of a main platform for the Papal altar and the placement of
60,000 seats on the track itself.
Nine volunteer ambulance corps from Queens
patrolled the crowd to tend to health emergencies, and ended up treating
142 people, mostly for heat exhaustion and minor injuries.
The biggest crisis at the event stemmed from a malfunction in the
track’s water system. Spectators
reported lines stretching the length of a city block waiting for one of
the few functioning fountains.
The mass at Aqueduct Racetrack marked Pope John
Paul II’s second trip to Queens.
In October 1979, he appeared before 50,000 enthusiastic
worshippers at Shea Stadium in Flushing.
was never a threat, however, as the stadium full of the faithful endured
a down pour while waiting for the Pope, only to have the skies briefly
clear as John Paul II arrived to huge ovations.