A look back at Pope John Paul II in Philadelphia

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015
VIDEO: Pope John Paul II visits Philadelphia in 1979
See Action News coverage of Pope John Paul II celebrating mass on the Ben Franklin Parkway back in 1979.

When Pope Francis visits Philadelphia, it'll be his first time in the City of Brotherly Love. But it won't be the first time Philly has hosted a pope.

On October 3rd, 1979, Pope John Paul II chose to walk among the crowd along the Ben Franklin Parkway ahead of his open-air Mass.

Earlier in the day, there was massive excitement, with people jostling to gain a better position.

But when this pope, 58 years old at the time, made his appearance at Logan Square, our Action News reporters that day noted how calm and reverent the crowd became.

As the moment nearly arrived for Pope John Paul II to walk up the altar, the late Action News broadcaster Jim O'Brien said this:

"I must say in my years on earth I haven't seen anything more touching or more impressive than what we're seeing right now."

Jim O'Brien also noted there is only one pope - which is not the case today. Pope Benedict became Pope Emeritus when he stepped down in 2013, making way for the election of then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio.

The stage for Pope John Paul II's Mass was constructed on top of Swann Fountain in Logan Square. It provided a 360 degree view to see the Mass.

It required 4,000 pieces of wood, 450 gallons of paint and a half ton of nails. 50 municipal employees built it in 17 days.

Some scoffed at the price tag of $150,000, and told Mayor Frank Rizzo it was a violation of the separation of church and state for the city to foot the bill.

At least one million people came to celebrate Mass with Pope John Paul II that day in 1979.

Some estimates put the number closer to two million. Will Philadelphia match those crowd numbers now?

All we know is that when Pope Francis begins his Mass here in 2015, a jolt of religious electricity will travel through every single human being nearby.

This will be special, just as it was 36 years ago.