Excerpts from "the first rough draft of history" as reported in The Washington Post on this date in the 20th century.
In 1978, Pope John Paul II became the first non-Italian pope elected in more than 450 years. The following year he made a historic seven-day journey across the United States, which culminated in a Mass he celebrated on the Mall in Washington. An excerpt from The Post of Oct. 8, 1979:
On the seventh day, as autumn winds lapped across the Mall of Washington and the late afternoon sun withdrew behind somber clouds, Pope John Paul II, in his farewell mass for America, was both warm in heart and stern in message.
"Peace be with you," said John Paul II.
And from the 175,000 in his audience -- the Catholics, the curious and the awed, wearing winter suits and Sunday dresses, Knights of Columbus slickers and hometown letter-jackets, cloth scarves and Texas cowboy hats -- came the traditional reply:
"And also with you."
But within the next 30 minutes, as this charismatic pope delivered the final homily of his American journey, he firmly pounded out a theme that has brought anything but peace in this country. In unemotional voice, again and again, he spoke out against birth control and abortion.
"I do not hesitate to proclaim before you and before the world," he said, "that all human life -- from the moment of conception and through all subsequent stages -- is sacred, because human life is created in the image and likeness of God."
With that one sentence, hundreds who had come to see him packed up their belongings and left for home. Some said they were tired and cold. But others said they were distraught that, for his final message, the pope would choose a subject so political and controversial.
"Thousands and thousands of children are starving around the world," said one woman from Alexandria as she made an early and sad departure from the Mall. "And there he is advocating having more and more children."
This was a minority view, on the Mall at least, and most in the smaller than expected audience stayed and cheered as they looked up to their spiritual leader, his white hair touched by the breeze, his stolid face and green vestments framed against the bright whiteness of the immense platform.
Five more times during his homily, the pope would present his antiabortion case in unmistakable terms, until finally, in one long summary statement, he elicited a sustained and thunderous applause from those ... who were there not as spectators but as participants in the most important rite of worship for Roman Catholics.
"And so," said the pope, his voice echoing across the mall from hundreds of loudspeakers, "we will stand up every time that human life is threatened. When the sacredness of life before birth is attacked, we will stand up and proclaim that no one ever has the authority to destroy unborn life."