Catholic Church of Montreal > Publications > Info Archives > SEPTEMBER - Behind the scenes: The papal visit thirty years later

SEPTEMBER - Behind the scenes: The papal visit thirty years later


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Thirty years ago, John Paul II arrived in Montreal for a two-day visit. Three decades later, the public events that filled his schedule remain engraved in the memory of those who attended them. At the Cathedral, in Saint Joseph's Oratory, at Notre-Dame's Basilica, in the Olympic Stadium and especially at Jarry Park's open-air mass, thousands came to see him. The archives of the Archdiocese of Montreal have preserved hundreds of documents from the Centre d'organisation de la visite du pape à Montréal (COVPAM). Former archbishop Jean-Claude Turcotte, then auxiliary bishop and vicar general, had received the mandate of overseeing the organization of the papal visit. These documents, as well as those of Archbishop Paul Gregoire's Secretariat, reveal what lied behind the scenes of the Pope's program. We discover that despite a busy official schedule, the Pope took the time to attend a number of private meetings away from the media. This month, through rare archival documents, we disclose elements of his program in Montreal.

Arriving by train to Montreal on the evening of September 10, 1984 nearly two hours behind schedule, the pope took part in an official welcoming ceremony in the Cathedral and then made his way to the sacristy. There, far from journalists and their cameras, he met in private with eleven representatives of the Canadian Jewish Congress. It was only after this meeting that the Pontiff retired to the residence of the Archbishop's Palace where he stayed during his visit in Montreal.

A second meeting behind closed doors also took place in the Archdiocese the next day. Following the Papal Mass at Jarry Park, more than twenty bishops met over lunch with the Pope. The Archbishops and Auxiliary Bishops of the dioceses of the ecclesiastical province of Montreal and of the dioceses of Western Quebec were joined by the Archbishops of Rennes and Ouagadougou and the Apostolic Nuncio Mgr Angelo Palmas. At the end of this meeting the Pope left for Notre-Dame's Basilica to attend a gathering with children. Immediately after, he took the direction of the Olympic Stadium for a meeting with the youth.

That same evening, despite an already tiring day that had started before 8 a.m., John Paul II took the time to meet and speak with resident priests, employees of the Cathedral and different actors of the Diocesan Curia. During his brief stay in Montreal, the Pope made himself available far from the media. The archives of the Archdiocese of Montreal have preserved photographs of these moments. The pope can be seen walking through the corridors of the Archbishop's residence and meeting those who worked and lived there. On these photographs, we can recognize, Father Georges Bois, parish assistant at the Cathedral, Bishop André-Marie Cimichella, Auxiliary Bishop of Montreal, Mgr Ivanhoë Poirier, Director of the Office of the clergy and Canon Jules Delorme, Archdeacon. John Paul II also met the Little Sisters of the Holy Family who lived in the convent contiguous to the residence. Since 1901, this community was cooking, doing housework and taking care of the sacristy for the Archdiocese's residents and visitors. On the same day, at Jarry Park, the Pope had beatified their founder, Mother Marie-Léonie Paradis.

The following morning, John Paul II and his entourage left early for the Dorval Airport to continue their twelve day journey across Canada. A select few, having received an official invitation, were expected at 5:45 a.m. at Montreal's Old Port. After going through security checks, fourteen buses transported them to the airport's runway where they were able to witness the departure of the Holy Father.

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