From the moment he knelt in spotless white robe to kiss the grimy tarmac of Boston's Logan Airport, until he waved the last weary goodbye eight days later, the visit of Pope John Paul II to this country a year ago caught the nation's attention as have few events in history.
But today there is scant evidence that the trip has had a long-term impact on the Catholic church in America. For devout Catholics, the pope's visit will remain one of the high points of their religious lives.
But for those who have disagreements with church doctrine -- on divorce, birth control, the role of women and celibacy for priests -- the six-city tour only reinforced the differences.
For devoted Catholics like Bill and Ruth Lauderbaugh of California, Md., who got up at 4 a.m. to get a choice spot on the Mall for the papal mass there, the pope's visit was not just another media event.
"It was like a family homecoming," Ruth Lauderbaugh recalled earlier this month, "a worldwide family, with all kinds of people, black white . . . the whole body of Christ."
The papal mass that cold, blustery Sunday is still very real to the Lauderbaughs and their eight children.
"Sometimes you feel a little weak, and you think about that [experience] and it strengthens you," said Bill Lauderbaugh. "You need to know that someone is behind you when you get discouraged."
But for a group of divorced Catholics, the memory of the pope's homily with its strong reassertion of the church's traditional views on divorce, is still a bitter one. "I felt almost as if I'd been shoved out [of the church]; it was almost an attack," said one woman. "It was so negative," said a man in the group. "I expected a little more of the humanity [the pope] is so famous for."
A Catholic University social scientist, doing a study for the American hierarchy on fallen-away Catholics, coincidentally conducted the in-depth interviews during the three months after the papal visit. The scholar, Dean Hoge, said he found little evidence that the pope's visit had anything to do with decisions to leave or rejoin the church.
"When you talk to people who are leaving or entering the church, they talk almost entirely about their own life experiences," Hoge said.
While acknowledging that the pope had "great personal charisma," Hoge said that based on his study, "the impact of the pope in the long run was not discernible. The direction that the church takes on problems such as divorce is a lot more important" to fallen-away Catholics. "If you want to bring people back into the church, then do something about the divorce rules."
The Rev. Richard McBrien, a leading Catholic theologian at the University of Notre Dame, believes the pope was "ill advised or perhaps he didn't seek advice" in preparing some of the more than 70 addresses he made during his tour. McBrien said the pope scored points with speeches at the United Nations and in Yankee Stadium on world peace and the need for the rich -- nations as well as people -- to share their resources with the have-nots. But when the pontiff turned to doctrine -- particularly on sexuality -- "he began to fritter away his advantage."
"He should have spoken with greater sensitivity to those who didn't measure up" to standards on divorce and celibacy for priests, McBrien said. "He could have said a word of gratitude to those priests who have felt called to leave the priesthood. He might have told those whose marriages have failed, often through no fault of their own, that 'even though you have not measured up . . . God loves you anyway.' . . . It wouldn't have satisfied everybody, but at least it would have indicated a sensitivity to the problems."
Though the papal visit filled Catholics with pride, McBrien contended that because of this insensitivity on issues, "the immediate impact tended to be more negative than positive" for many Catholics.
"Many priests reported to me that . . . because [John Paul] does have such a strong image . . . when he did speak out on issues like divorce and contraception in the way he did, [it] devastated people" who had been unable to obey all the rules.
"Because the pope came out and said these things without nuancing them," McBrien continued, Catholics who had worked out an accommodation with their faith despite divorce or contraception "came back to their priests and said: 'See, I told you so. The church hasn't changed. You were just being kind to me, but I really can't come back to communion. Here's the pope; he says it hasn't changed.'"
In recent years many divorced and remarried Catholics have been allowed to return to the sacraments if, in consultation with their priest and their own conscience, they feel they may do so. Tens of thousands of divorced Catholics have taken advantage, often at the quiet urging of their priest, of this "internal forum solution," as it is called.
The result of the pope's visit, McBrien contends, was "making the priest's work harder in ministering to these people. "He put a lot of people into the guilt trap."
Msgr. Alvin Illig, who heads the evangelization office for the U.S. Catholic hierarchy, saw the pope's words here differently. "He said startling things," Illig recalled. "He stated the church's position on abortion . . . on the ordination of women, on the responsibility to contribute to the poor . . . but he said it in the way that Christ did -- he condemned the sin but loved the sinner."
But even Illig, with his "really positive attitude" toward the papal visit, acknowledged that "it is hard to pin-point anything specific" in terms of a lasting impact. "I like to think that maybe he had a little bit of impact on the inactive Catholics" who he said are increasingly coming back to their faith. "But did John Paul do that? You can't say."
The one note of public controversy during the papal visit -- the role of women in the church as sounded by Sister Theresa Kane in a welcoming speech here -- has not dissipated.
The Rev. Joseph O'Hare, editor of the important Jesuit weekly, America, called the question of the role of women "the most neuralgic point" of the trip, and said that in the ensuing year, "[the pope] hasn't done much to shore up his image on the women's issue."
"There is no evidence that he really understands what the experience is of women in the church in America that prompted [Kane] to make such a statement," O'Hare said. O'Hare and other observers, both Catholic and Protestant, fault the American bishops for failing to brief the pope on the American Catholic experience. "They have a responsibility to say [to the pope], "This is a serious matter' and not slough it off with the impression that the girls are just being a little naughty," O'Hare said.
Kane's own convictions that the church should allow women to participate fully in the church have not diminished over the past year. "The church cannot profess dignity, reverence and equality for all persons and continue to systematically exclude women as persons from fully participating in the institutional church," she told the annual meeting of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in August before stepping down as president.
The group, which represents the top leadership of most women's religious orders in this country, gave her a standing ovation. They also affirmed the requests that Kane and other top leaders of the organization have made repeatedly since the papal visit for a Vatican audience with the pope. Those requests have not been granted.
There is no evidence yet that the pope's trip prompted more young men and women to enter religious life. "I had hoped that the visit would show up in an increased interest in priestly vocations," said Martin Marty, a University of Chicago theologian-historian. Pointing out that Protestant seminaries are full, Marty said, "There is no reason 19-year-old Catholics would not also be interested" in a commitment to religious life. "They admired [the pope], but his unresponsiveness to the questions that many 19-year-olds have" discouraged them from pursuing those careers. Campus religious leaders also said they noted some increase in religious activities, but that the trend had started before the pope came to America.
The Protestant Marty observed that the pope's American trip "comparatively came third, after [the trips to] Brazil and Africa, as far as making any real impact on the whole Catholic Church."
While the trip here was "most important as a morale builder," Marty acknowledged, "the American visit didn't change him; the Brazilian and African trips did . . . There was nothing that he did here that really set the tone for his papacy."
Marty, like a number of Catholic observers, faults the American hierarchy for making the trip here ceremonial and triumphal rather than a learning experience for the pope. "The American environment and leadership failed to make it a two-way conversation," he said.
John Paul, observed Norte Dame's McBrien is "a man of great intellect and profound character . . . a man who can grow.For a man of this character, all he needs is someone to stand up to him -- someone who is his equal, which means the bishops."
In Brazil, observed Norte Dame president Theodore Hesburgh, the pope "tramped through the favella [slum], he talked to the people there, he got dirty. And that's progress."
"The Brazilian hierarchy understands that they are not just the pope's deputies," McBrien explained. "They understood that they have an obligation to insist that the pope be sensitive to the needs of their people . . . for them the pope is a brother bishop."
The American hierarchy, on the other hand, sees its function as "the conduit to the pope, interpreting to their people what the pope says. . . . They wouldn't think of confronting the pope," McBrien added.
Far from making his visit here a learning experience, McBrien continued, the attitude of American Catholics was: "You are the holy father and we are proud to be Catholic and which way do you want us to march?. . . By and large it was a lost opportunity."
In the annual meeting of the U.S. hierarchy last November, a small group of American bishops did offer a carefully worded amendment to the report on the pope's visit, suggesting that in future papal visits to this country, the schedule be drawn up to allow more time for dialogue. The bishops ignored the proposal.
In some ways, Protestants leaders seemed to enjoy the papal visit more than Catholics-perhaps, O'Hare suggested, "because they're outside the Catholic church and not struggling with the doctrinal questions."
"Protestants as well as Catholics felt the power of his personality," said the Rev. Dr. Robert Nelson of Boston University school of theology. "I know I really felt he came here as the embodiment of the Christian Church, as a strong member of the first team, come here to help us," said the United Methodist theologian.
"But subsequent events," he continued, "have by no means added to that luster." Nelson cited the "doctrinal crackdown" affecting theologians Hans Kueng, Edward Schillebeeckx and others as "tending to dampen the enthusiasm," of Protestant ecumenists.
He added that "a lot of us were upset about the crackdown" on the priest congressman Robert Drinan. Nelson called the Vatican's order for Drinan to get out of partisan politics "pretty ruthless."
Many Protestant ecumenical leaders are still not convinced that John Paul is as committed to efforts for Christian unity as Pope Paul VI. "I suppose in some subtle way his visit here last year maybe had some effect" on Protestant-Catholic relations, said Claire Randall, general secretary of the National Council of Churches. But from her work with the World Council of Churches, she added that it is her impression that "ecumenism is not very high on the Vatican agenda."
The Rev. Dr. George Lindbeck of Yale University, a member of the Catholic-Lutheran dialogue team, said that "the support from Rome for the international dialogue has not decreased at all. . . . I get the impression that the ecumencial dialogue is being pursued by the Roman authorities, presumably with the support of the pope." But like Nelson and other Protestant leaders, the Lutheran theologian said he was "troubled" by the way the Vatican has dealt with its own dissidents.
But in Iowa the Rev. Stephen Orr, chancellor of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Des Moines, said the pope's visit to that area has enhanced ecumenical relations. "There was already a good ecumenical spirit here in Iowa," he said, "and we involved the other churches heavily in the visit here last year. Now everywhere I go, people [from other denominations] come up to me and say: 'Wasn't that a great day! It never would have happened 30 years ago.'"