In 1965, 'Newsweek' Covers Pope Paul VI's Visit to New York

Pope Paul VI puts the red berretta on the head of Karol Woityla in a ceremony at the Vatican, June 26, 1967. Reuters

The first time a pope visited the United States, back in 1965, the church was in a period of adjustment. The Vatican looked for ways to connect with Catholics in a postwar culture that was becoming increasingly secular and global. The rise of commercial advertising and consumer culture in the U.S. had changed the fabric of American household life. The ongoing struggle between the capitalist West and the communist Soviet Union carried with it the constant threat of war, and the destructive potential of nuclear weapons. In 1963, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy had shaken the United States. Ahead of Pope Paul VI's visit to New York City in October of 1965, when he visited with President Lyndon B. Johnson, Newsweek chronicled the concerns of a pope trying to keep in step with the times, and the security necessary to protect Paul on his historic visit to the U.S.

With Pope Francis speaking in Washington, D.C. and New York last week, the Vatican's message from 50 years ago—reaching beyond the confines of the Catholic Church for the cause of bettering the world—may sound familiar.

The dramatic events unfolding in New York seemed to contain all the ingredients of one of history's climacterics. There was the extraordinary spectacle of the greatest city in the New World in tumult to welcome a reigning Pope of Rome. There was the moving drama of the meeting between the elegant patrician from Lombardy and the lusty frontiersman from Texas, elected leaders both, but the first of the world's oldest autocracy and the second of the world's oldest democracy. Finally, there was the high state occasion itself—the Pope's appearance, yet another historical precedent, before the United Nations.

All of these, in turn, were heightened by the fascinating aura of enigma that surrounds the personality of Pope Paul VI himself. Is he, as his liberal critics charge, a Hamlet Pope, unwilling or unable to chart his own course? Or is he another kind of pontiff altogether, a careful, pragmatic statesman-cleric bent on a purposeful diplomatic mission—this time to enhance the prestige of the papacy with the 117 nations whose representatives sit at the U.N.?

As New York braced itself for a reception that promised to outshine anything in its ticker-tape-strewn history, the Vatican Council in Rome was locked in spirited debate over some of the key issues—birth control and divorce, for example—on which the Pope's ultimate view is yet to emerge. Council voices expressed refreshingly frank concern over the church's role in the world: the Superior General of the Society of Jesus was promising to go Coca-Cola one better in the use of motivational research to "sell" Roman Catholicism. "We have a great product," he said candidly, "but we don't know how to sell it."

For Paul VI, the campaign to step up the church's participation in secular affairs is a natural outgrowth of the legacy he received from Pope John XXIII, whose four-and-a-half-year reign launched the church on its most thoroughgoing program of rejuvenation and modernization in 417 years. But the legacy of John XXIII also included a backlash of resentment from the more conservative members of the Roman Curia, and partly because of this and partly because of differences in training, temperament and personality, Paul VI apparently has seen fit to curb the speed, without altering the direction, of John's drive for aggiornamento.

Next Stop, Poland?

In the process, he has begun also to put his own stamp on the papacy. With this week's dramatic trip to the U.N., coming in the wake of his trips to the Holy Land and to India, Paul VI is clearly seeking for the Vatican the same kind of recognition and broader audience that secular leaders seek with their own state visits. Paul has already expressed his wish to visit Poland next year, and the mostly Catholic nations of Latin America would seem logical places for a visit by the Pontiff thereafter.

Shortly before he left Rome, Pope Paul made an appointment that underscored his concern for one of the U.S.'s most vital social problems, and should make an equal impression on some of his hosts at the U.N. He named a U.S. Negro, the Very Rev. Harold R. Perry, to the post of bishop, and assigned him as Auxiliary Bishop of New Orleans. Perry is the first U.S. Negro to achieve this rank in 90 years.

At the Vatican the Pope's aides warned that his speech to the U.N. could not be expected to lay out sensational new directions for papal policy. It would, they said, stress the church's concern for ecumenism. One declared: "Can you imagine what the reaction would be if the Pope merely stood up before that body and said, 'Peace, peace, peace,' and then turned about and left?" He added: "The Holy Father is speaking not only for Catholics, but for all the outsiders of the world—the poor, the lost, believers and unbelievers, all men who want a better deal. It is in the realm of possibility for man to make a better world, and the Pope will call upon him to do that."

Protecting the Pope

For the nation's 45 million Catholics, and uncounted others as well, Pope Paul's unprecedented visit was an occasion for rejoicing—and for gawking. To nervous security officials and others who had to prepare for the occasion, the first visit of a Pope to the United States posed a monumental challenge. Some 5 million people were expected to glimpse the 68-year-old Pontiff from the moment Monday morning when his DC-8, specially decorated in chartreuse-colored velvet, set down at Kennedy International Airport until late that evening when he was to embark again for Rome, having toured to Midtown Manhattan, the United Nations, Yankee Stadium and the New York World's Fair.

New York City's police department assigned 18 men, at a cost of $1 million in overtime, to guard the 53-mile route. And that was only a beginning. The array of protectors also included state troopers, U.N. security forces, Secret Servicemen, Pinkerton guards and State Department security experts. Even priests were enlisted as quasi-cops at Yankee Stadium to help separate the unticketed from the 90,000 eligible to attend the massive papal Mass there (where hot dogs, but no beers, were to be sold).

Along the motorcade route every building had been checked and re-checked by security teams. Even special areas for pickets protesting the visit were roped off. "Undesirables," particularly those with a record of virulent anti-Catholicism, were put under constant police surveillance at the weekend. Bartenders were asked to telephone in tips of any customers who vehemently denounced Roman Catholics. Shops specializing in religious clothing were requested to report out-of-the-ordinary cassock purchases. "We did have some odd requests for fronts and collars," says one such store owner, "so we didn't fill those orders."

Boarded Windows

In Harlem, parochial schools distributed papal flags to swarms of children who would wave the Pontiff through one of the first points of interest on his route—Manhattan slums. And the downtown stores near St. Patrick's Cathedral, where the Pope would briefly visit Cardinal Spellman, boarded up their windows as a precaution against the crush of bodies. Many planned to close down for the day. "This will hurt business," muttered one manager. But another did some extra trade. Saks Fifth Avenue quietly readied supplies of towels and electric-shave lotion for the papal party's return plane trip.

As the final countdown for the arrival began, police helicopters took to the skies and frogmen were stationed under bridges along the motorcade route, ready to act at any sign of waterborne danger. Simultaneously, television and radio crews weighed camera angles and vistas. In keeping with the ecumenical mood of the Vatican, the three rival networks pooled their resources for the broadest possible coverage. But CBS still scored a coup over its rivals by signing up Bishop Fulton Sheen to deliver the commentary on the papal pageant.

Vinyl Throne

Those not content to watch the procession on home screens had a special treat in store—a close-up look at perhaps the most unusual car ever seen. Rushed to completion last week in Chicago was a 21-foot-long, custom-made Lincoln Continental limousine, featuring an open rear section with a black vinyl throne which could be raised and lowered electrically and special lights to illuminate its occupant.

For all the elaborate precautions, the arrival of the limousine that would slowly weave its majestic way through the towering caverns, past the massed crowds of New York City emphasized the down-to-earth dangers posed by the visit. Despite strong hints from city officials that Paul might be more comfortable in a bubble-dome automobile shielded with bullet-proof glass, the Pontiff seemed firm in his announced intention to stay in the open. For Paul VI had made his own careful preparations—to show himself to the New World—and this plan inevitably raised the risks and limited the security for the earthly representative of the Prince of Peace.