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St John Paul II's 3rd Apostolic Visit to the USA

Wednesday 2nd May 1984

Pope St John Paul II was a pilgrim to the United States of America for the third time briefly in Alaska, at the beginning of his 21st apostolic voyage on which he also visited South Korea, Papua-New Guinea, the Solomon Islands & Thailand

Pope St John Paul II's address to the Authorities & People of Alaska
Fairbanks Airport, Alaska, Wednesday 2nd May 1984 - also in Italian & Portuguese

"Praised be Jesus Christ!

Mr. President, dear people of Alaska, esteemed citizens of America,
1. It gives me great pleasure to visit Alaska once again, and from this northern State to send a greeting of special warmth and affection to all the citizens of the United States of America. As you know, today I have begun a pastoral journey that will take me to Korea, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Thailand. And I am delighted that this pilgrimage enables me to stop here in Fairbanks and to be among you!

I am deeply honored by the presence of President Reagan, who himself is just returning from an important trip to China. Mr. President, I thank you for your kind welcome on my arrival, and I wish to reaffirm through you my friendship and esteem for all the citizens of your great nation.

My thanks go as well to Bishop Whelan for his much appreciated invitation to the Diocese of Fairbanks. I also extend my good wishes to Bishop Kaniecki, and I pray that the Lord will grant him many joyful years of service to the Church. I would also offer a word of greeting to the Cardinal and Bishops of the United States Episcopal Conference who have shown their fraternal union with me by coming here on this happy occasion.

2. When I arrived on my first visit to your beautiful State, dear people of Alaska, I remember being welcomed by a lovely little child, Mollie Marie, who reached out and handed me a bouquet of forget-me-nots, your State flower. Shortly afterwards, that little girl was called home to her heavenly Father, but her loving gesture is not forgotten and her memory is held in blessing.

I found in what she did at that time a living truth about the people of the vast Alaskan territory: that in your thoughts and in your prayers you remember the Pope. Today I am here in person to give you the assurance that I have not forgotten you. Even when I am miles away, I hold the people of Alaska and those of the whole of the United States close to me in my heart. I do not forget you, for we are linked together by bonds of friendship, of faith and of love.

3. In some ways, Alaska can be considered today as a cross-roads of the world. President Reagan is returning from visiting the beloved people of China, even as I am making my way to a neighboring area in the Far East. The city of Fairbanks reminds us also of another direction for it is called "The Heart of the Golden North". Here in this vast State sixty-five languages are spoken and peoples of many diverse backgrounds find a common home with the Aleuts, Eskimos and Indians.

This wonderful diversity provides the context in which each person, each family, each ethnic group is challenged to live in harmony and concord, one with the other.

4. To achieve this aim requires a constant openness to each other on the part of each individual and group. An openness of heart, a readiness to accept differences, and an ability to listen to each other’s viewpoint without prejudice. Openness to others, by its very nature, excludes selfishness in any form. It is expressed in a dialogue that is honest and frank-one that is based on mutual respect. Openness to others begins in the heart.

As I stated at the beginning of this year in my Message for the World Day of Peace, if men and women hope to transform society, they must begin by changing their own hearts first. Only with a "new heart" can one rediscover "clear-sightedness and impartiality with freedom of spirit, the sense of justice with respect to the rights of man, the sense of equity with global solidarity between the rich and the poor, mutual trust and fraternal love" (Ioannis Pauli PP. II, Nuntius scripto datus ob diem I mensis Ianuarii anni MCMLXXXIV, paci inter nationes fovendae dicatum, 3, die 8 dec. 1983: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, VI, 2 (1983) 1282).

Here in Fairbanks you have the opportunity to rediscover such values and to express them in your harmonious relationship with your neighbor - which reflects the stupendous harmony of nature which pervades this region.

May God grant you the strength to express this harmony in your own lives, in your relationship with others. May he give you the courage to share generously and selflessly the blessings that you yourselves have received in abundance.

God bless America!"

Pope St John Paul II's homily at Holy Mass at Fairbanks Airport
Alaska, Wednesday 2nd May 1984 - also in Italian & Portuguese

"Dear Brothers and Sisters in our Lord Jesus Christ,
Peace be with you!

1. I greet you with the very words that we have just heard the Risen Christ address to his disciples in the Gospel of Saint John. I use this expression not only to emphasize the wonderful joy that is ours in this Easter season, but also in remembrance of Christ’s promise: "Where two or three are gathered in my name there am I in the midst of them" (Mt 18, 2). Since we have come together in the name of Christ, Christ is here in our midst.

My dear brothers and sisters, do we not have a feeling of overwhelming happiness, a deep calm, in knowing that Jesus - our Risen Saviour, our Paschal Sacrifice, the Light of the world, - this Jesus is dwelling in our hearts and offering us his peace? I must tell you how good it is for me to be united with you today in the peace of the Risen Christ.

2. Observing the joy of the disciples when they see the Lord, we notice from the Gospel passage that there is something different about him. The doors are closed and yet he enters. He bears the marks of death and yet he lives. The Gospel narratives of both St John and St Luke are at pains to tell us that after the Resurrection the body of Jesus is different. He has entered into the stage of his risen and glorious life.

In St John’s Gospel this is the second appearance of Jesus to the disciples assembled as a group. After the first appearance, their exhilaration at seeing Jesus was so great that, when they met Thomas afterwards, they could not resist exclaiming: "We have seen the Lord!" But Thomas would not accept their witness: "I will never believe it without probing the nail-prints in his hands, without putting my finger in the nail marks and my hand into his side". Perhaps it is easy for us to judge Thomas too harshly for his disbelief. After all, do we not often use the expression, "seeing is believing"? Does not our age tend to believe only what can be proved by the senses? Does not modern man remain incredulous of what he cannot see or touch or hear?

Jesus understands Thomas and the reasons for his doubts. When he meets Thomas, Jesus immediately says to him: "Take your fingers and examine my hands. Put your hand into my side. Do not persist in your unbelief, but believe". So overwhelmed is Thomas by the Lord’s gentleness, compassion and patience that he can barely utter in humble recognition: "My Lord and my God!" Yes, this truly was the Lord, transformed by the Resurrection, and fully alive.

3. The side of Christ into which Thomas placed his hand is the very same that had been pierced by the soldier’s spear and from which "came out blood and water". And with the flowing of that "blood and water" the Church is born from the side of Christ. Thus, through his suffering and death, Christ fashions the Church from his own side in order that his risen presence may be manifested to the world. By God’s will, the Church becomes the sacrament or sign of Christ on earth. As the Body of Christ, she becomes the point of encounter between God and humanity: between the Creator and creatures, between the Redeemer and the redeemed. And as Thomas was invited to "see and believe" by experiencing the risen presence of Christ in his glorified body, so too are all people invited to "see and believe" by experiencing the same risen presence of Christ in his Mystical Body, the Church.

4. In our first reading today from the Acts of the Apostles, which tells us what happened in the house of the Roman centurion Cornelius, we see that the message of faith is communicated through the Church: Peter was not preaching on his own initiative alone. The Scripture tells us that Cornelius had been directed by an angel to send for Peter, and Peter had gone there on instructions from the Holy Spirit. In addition, while Peter was preaching on the meaning of the events of Jesus’ life, death and Resurrection, "the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word" (Act 9, 44). By this preaching, Peter was involved in a profoundly ecclesial activity. And so is everyone who evangelizes, for one can authentically proclaim the Gospel of Christ only in the name of the Church and in union with the Church.

My predecessor Paul VI made reference to this truth in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi "When the most obscure preacher, catechist or pastor in the most distant land preaches the Gospel, gathers his little community together or administers a Sacrament, even alone, he is carrying out an ecclesial act, and his action is certainly attached to the evangelizing activity of the whole Church by institutional relationships, but also by profound invisible links in the order of grace. This presupposes that he acts not in virtue of a mission which he attributes to himself or by a personal inspiration, but in union with the mission of the Church and in her name" (EN, 60).

How aptly this description applies to the Church in Alaska and particularly in the diocese of Fairbanks, where the population is scattered over 409,000 square miles. In reading the history of the missionary activity in this vast area, might we not ask whether the first missionaries would have dared to penetrate the interior of Alaska unless they had been fired by a profound love for Christ’s Church and utterly convinced of the Church’s duty to proclaim the Gospel to all people? The early missionary efforts of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the continuing labours of the Society of Jesus are well known. The missionaries stand out in this history as the true heroes of the faith, whose courage and zeal made possible the building up of the Church in this land.

Today the work of preaching and teaching the Gospel in the name of the Church is zealously continued by religious and diocesan priests, by deacons, by women religious, religious brothers and catechists. Many of them undertake great personal sacrifices, often traveling long distances to bring the word of God with its message of hope and love to their brothers and sisters.

These missionary efforts still today come under the pastoral care of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith and are assisted by the Pontifical Missionary Societies. Specifically this means that evangelization in this diocese, and in so many others like it throughout the world, is supported by the interest and solidarity of others. In this regard the Catholics of North America have exercised a special role in sustaining and promoting the missionary efforts of the Holy See. They are owed an immense debt of gratitude. And today, standing on this missionary soil of America, I wish to express my heartfelt thanks to the Church throughout the United States for everything it has done for the cause of spreading the light of Christ’s Gospel.

5. Dear brothers and sisters: let us beseech the Lord who calls labourers into his harvest, to grant that many young people will dedicate their lives to the missionary work of the Church. May these young people respond generously to the Lord’s call to the priesthood and religious life. And thus may the presence of the Risen Christ continue to be revealed in his Church, and "the good news of peace proclaimed through Jesus Christ who is the Lord of all".

Dear brothers and sisters in Alaska: may the peace of the Risen Jesus be with you always!"


"We are journeying from Alaska to Korea. And as we recall the sad event in which - along this same route - all the passengers of the aircraft lost their lives, we commend their souls to the merciful God, as we recite the "Regina Coeli"."