|Pope John Paul II told thousands of his “young friends” that they are the light of the world and urged them to “train yourself for devotion.”
The pontiff was met with wild cheers by more than 20,000 teen-agers and their chaperones who waved yellow and white scarves at an evening prayer service at the Kiel Center.
The pope spoke to the crowd like a kindly, tolerant and sometimes forceful grandfather.
Beneath banners celebrating the rough-and-tumble sports of hockey, basketball and soccer, the pontiff invoked a sports theme to deliver his message.
“We are here in the Kiel Center where many people train long and hard in order to compete in different sports. Today, this impressive stadium has become another kind of training ground — not for hockey or soccer or baseball or basketball, but for that training that will help you live your faith in Jesus more decisively.”
An avid sportsman in his younger days, the pontiff was presented with a hockey stick and a Blues jersey with John Paul II and the number one on its back, along with a bishop’s mitre — the pointed ceremonial hat worn during Mass.
“So I am prepared to return once more to play hockey,” the pope joked.
The pontiff’s homily was interrupted often by cheers, applause and shouts of “Viva la Papa” and “We love you, John Paul II.”
Many a tweet recalled a Jan. 26, 1999, visit the pontiff paid to St. Louis and just how comfortable he looked holding a hockey stick given to him by young people gathered for a rally at the arena that is home to the St. Louis Blues, then called the Kiel Center.
At the end of the rally, which drew a crowd of 20,000, the pope also received a special jersey in the Blues’ colors — bearing the name “John Paul II” and the number “1.”
When the Blues headed to the Stanley Cup Final, Catholics of the Archdiocese of St. Louis were praying hard for their team, said a May 23 editorial in the St. Louis Review, the archdiocesan newspaper.
“Our city has caught Blues fever with fervor,” it said. “Even Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, not a native of St. Louis but no stranger to hockey as a Minnesota native, exclaimed at the end of his May 22 State of the Archdiocese address to employees: ‘Go Blues!'”
“Many people had given up on the Blues, who in January were the worst team in the NHL,” the editorial noted. “It’s a lesson in perseverance and never giving up. It’s a lesson that we certainly could apply to our lives, and especially our faith. There’s always hope. For Catholics, that hopes lies in Jesus. And, for #CatholicSTL, in the Blues, too.”
The long-suffering team and its loyal fans finally got their magical moment in Game 7 with a 4-1 victory in Boston. And the celebration will continue with a parade to honor the champion team June 15 in St. Louis.