In S.C. visit, Pope John Paul II focused on Christian unity and the family

In September 1987 Pope John Paul II visited nine cities in the United States. Columbia, S.C., was his second stop. Here, he focused on the topics of ecumenism and Christian leadership and the importance of the family.

The pope’s visit to South Carolina was a brief moment in time, a mere five hours, but it’s remembered with such clarity that it might have been only five days ago.

He first greeted representatives of the Catholic community at St. Peter Church and then joined Christian leaders in dialogue at the home of the president of the University of South Carolina. He ended his visit by joining a crowd of 60,000 for an Ecumenical Prayer Service at Williams-Brice Stadium.

The other cities he visited and subjects he discussed were: Miami, priests and Jewish leaders; New Orleans, youth and education and the permanent diaconate; San Antonio, Catholic charity and service to neighbor; Phoenix, health care and Native Americans; Los Angeles, communications, U.S. bishops, non-Christian religions; Monterey, Calif., agriculture and farm workers; San Francisco, religious communities and lay ministry; and Detroit, social justice.

An excerpt from Pope John Paul II’s message at the Ecumenical Prayer Service on Sept. 11, 1987, in Columbia, where he joined Christian leaders and 60,000 faithful from across the Southeast.

… Brothers and sisters: we are divided in many ways in our faith and discipleship. But we are here together today as sons and daughters of the one Father, calling upon the one Lord Jesus Christ, in the love which the same Holy Spirit pours forth into our hearts. Let us give thanks to God and let us rejoice in this fellowship! And let us commit ourselves further to the great task which Jesus Himself urges upon us: to go forward along the path of Christian reconciliation and unity “without obstructing the ways of divine Providence and without prejudging the future inspiration of the Holy Spirit” (“Unitatis Redintegratio,” 24).

In this service of Christian witness, we have listened together to the word of God given to us in the Holy Scriptures. The Scriptures are dear to all of us. They are one of the greatest treasures we share. In the sacred Scriptures and in the deeds of divine mercy which they narrate, God our Father, out of the abundance of His love, speaks to us as His children and lives among us. The Bible is holy because in its inspired and unalterable words the voice of the Holy Spirit lives and is heard among us, sounding again and again in the Church from age to age and from generation to generation (cf. “Dei Verbum,” 21).

Today this stadium has resounded with passages from Holy Scripture bearing on the reality of the family. We have heard the plea and promise made by the young widow, Ruth: “Wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Wherever you die I will die and there be buried” (Ruth 1:16-17). To hear these words is to be moved with a deep feeling for the strength of family ties: stronger than the fear of hardships to be faced; stronger than the fear of exile in an unfamiliar land; stronger than the fear of possible rejection. The bond that unites a family is not only a matter of natural kinship or of shared life and experience. It is essentially a holy and religious bond. Marriage and the family are sacred realities.

The sacredness of Christian marriage consists in the fact that in God’s plan the marriage covenant between a man and a woman becomes the image and symbol of the Covenant which unites God and His people (cf. Hos. 2:21; Jer. 3:6-13; Is. 54:5-10). It is the sign of Christ’s love for His Church (cf. Eph. 5:32). Because God’s love is faithful and irrevocable, so those who have been married “in Christ” are called to remain faithful to each other forever. Did not Jesus Himself say to us: “What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder” (cf. Mt. 19:6)?

Contemporary society has a special need of the witness of couples who persevere in their union, as an eloquent, even if sometimes suffering, “sign” in our human condition of the steadfastness of God’s love. Day after day Christian married couples are called to open their hearts even more to the Holy Spirit, whose power never fails, and who enables them to love each other as Christ has loved us. And, as St. Paul writes to the Galatians, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faith, mildness, and chastity (Gal. 5:22-23). All of this constitutes the rule of life and the program of personal development of Christian couples. And each Christian community has a great responsibility to sustain couples in their love.

… In America and throughout the world, the family is being shaken to its roots. The consequences for individuals and society in personal and collective instability and unhappiness are incalculable. Yet, it is heartening to know that in the face of this extraordinary challenge many Christians are committing themselves to the defense and support of family life. …

For more information

To read the complete version of the pope’s address as well as the other speeches he gave while in Columbia, visit the diocesan Web site at