In the words of Mikhail Gorbachev, "Everything that has happened in Eastern Europe these last few years would be impossible without the pope and without the important role, including the political role, he played on the world stage."

Associated Press

October 3, 1995

NEW YORK (AP) -- Placido Domingo, Natalie Cole and Roberta Flack will warm up his audiences.

Free tickets to his outdoor events are being scalped at prices that might be whispered in Shubert Alley for sold-out Broadway musicals -- upwards of $100.

A healthier Pope John Paul II returns to the United States Wednesday with popularity ratings any politician would covet. A New York Times-CBS News poll released over the weekend found 92 percent of U.S. Catholic adults view him favorably and only 4 percent unfavorably.

During his five-day visit, the pope will confer with President Clinton, address the United Nations General Assembly and preach to huge crowds at the outdoor Masses in Giants Stadium in the New Jersey Meadowlands, at Aqueduct race track, on the Great Lawn in New York's Central Park and at Oriole Park in Baltimore.

Even if the pope faces little visible opposition, polls show many American Catholics reject his views on sexual morality and other issues.

Critics inside the church object to the pope's vehement opposition to birth control and want him to at least consider allowing married priests and the ordination of women. The number of U.S. priests is falling even as the number of Catholics rises.

The pope began 1995 as Time Magazine's Man of the Year, his 12th appearance on Time's cover. His book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, was a best-seller in 20 countries.

The English translation of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, a major project of his papacy, has sold an astonishing 2.3 million copies in hardback.

At the outset of his 18th year on the throne of Peter, [Roman] Catholic population worldwide has passed the billion mark.

John Paul II has made a remarkable comeback from the effects of a partial thigh bone replacement after a bathroom fall that caused the cancellation of a planned U.S. visit a year ago. Journeying to his fifth continent since then, the 75-year-old pontiff has thrown away his cane, and walks with less of the pronounced stoop observed during his recovery.

Occasionally however, especially when he is climbing steps, the ruddy face is caught by the TV cameras grimacing in pain. To assist him during the recent African trip, elevators or hydraulic lifts were installed at several altar sites.

In addressing the United Nations on Thursday, John Paul II will have a far greater presence than when he faced the world body at the outset of his papacy in 1979.

Such diverse figures as Czech President Vaclav Havel, Ronald Reagan, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, and the Rev. Vincent O'Keefe, whom he removed as acting Superior General of the Jesuits, look upon this Pope as a moral battering ram in bringing down the Berlin Wall and European Communism.

In the words of Mikhail Gorbachev, "Everything that has happened in Eastern Europe these last few years would be impossible without the pope and without the important role, including the political role, he played on the world stage."

More recently the pope has energized Vatican diplomats to exert formidable pressure on two United Nations conferences, on population and development in Cairo, Egypt, and on women in Beijing.

For months now, the most polyglot pope ever to evangelize in Peter's footsteps has been studying Chinese in order to deliver his address in all the major languages used in conducting daily business at the U.N.

Away from the seats of power and the crowded bleacher seats, the shepherd from Rome will spend some time with the powerless and the unempowered. He will have a casserole lunch with the homeless at a soup kitchen in Baltimore just down the block from the nation's oldest Catholic cathedral.

At Newark's Sacred Heart cathedral he will greet more than 120 cloistered nuns, some going out of their convents for the first time since taking their vows a half century ago.

"Excitement has been running high here since the day his visit was announced," Sister Mary Martin, prioress of the Dominican monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, N.J., said in an interview on the eve of the pope's arrival.

Her 22 nuns, who leave the cloister only for medical visits and death in the immediate family, spend more hours a day in prayer and periods of "profound silence" than they do in almost a year watching permitted television programs of religious or historical interest.

They range in age from 43 to "the most excited of all" -- 88-year-old Sister Mary of the Immaculate Heart, who renounced the world seven decades ago but would give the world, her six-acre world, to see His Holiness.