LOS ANGELES, SEPT. 16 -- Pope John Paul II celebrated the role of the Catholic school in American education today as he met with First Lady Nancy Reagan and several schoolchildren here.
In later events, including a meeting with non-Christian religious leaders at a Japanese-American community center and a mass for 57,000 worshipers in Dodger Stadium, he praised American immigrant diversity and called for all faiths to combat personal "inner emptiness," as well as "consumerism and a pleasure-seeking mentality."
The pope told the First Lady and 300 students at the Immaculate Conception School that "for many, many years Catholic schools . . . have been an important part of education in the United States of America." He noted that pupils in Catholic schools have included "the children of immigrants from every race and from every nation, and indeed from many different religious denominations."
The church's efforts to maintain its inner-city schools in the face of an overall decline in the numbers of school-age children and growing parental distress with the public schools have brought a significant increase in the number of minority and non-Catholic parochial school pupils.
Minority enrollment jumped from 10.8 percent in 1971 to 20.6 percent -- about half Hispanic and half black -- in 1985 in Catholic elementary and secondary schools, according to the U.S. Catholic Conference. The students at Immaculate Conception, where the pope and the First Lady appeared today, are almost all Hispanic.
The pope told them the most important thing that they would learn in school was religion, but he also noted the many non-Catholics attending Catholic schools. A U.S. Catholic Conference report said that the percentage of non-Catholics attending Catholic schools has grown from 2.7 percent in 1970 to 11.7 percent this year.
Mrs. Reagan preceded the Pope's remarks with a strong warning to the audience of children against using drugs. The pope echoed her warning. But the questions from a few selected children dealt with more philosophical concerns. One child asked if the pope ever had a problem forgiving someone. The pope said forgiveness was sometimes difficult and it was important to pray at such times.
At the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in downtown Los Angeles, the pope met with representatives of the Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic and Jewish faiths and exchanged appeals for love and understanding based on a 1965 report of the Second Vatican Council calling for better relations between Christian and non-Christian religions.
The Jewish representative to the meeting, Rabbi Alfred Wolf, praised the pope for cutting through "a millennial curtain of contempt" with his 1985 visit to a Jewish synagogue and pleaded for his help in the "struggle against anti-Semitism." Wolf did not mention the pope's recent meeting with Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, whose wartime Nazi activities have made him anathema in the American Jewish community.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper said he and other officials of the Simon Wiesenthal Center here refused to attend the meeting because of the pope's dealings with Waldheim, the Vatican's refusal to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel and the pope's defense of Pope Pius XII's wartime record. Cooper said he and other center leaders were impressed with the pontiff's recent call for Holocaust studies in Catholic schools, but if his defense of Pius XII "is included in what they are going to teach young people, then we've got a problem."
At an evening mass in Dodger Stadium, joined by nearly every Catholic bishop in the United States, the pope spoke in both English and Spanish. He hailed California as "a haven for immigrants, a new home for refugees and migrants, a place where people from every continent have come together to fashion a society of the most varied ethnic diversity."
"Today, in the church in Los Angeles, Christ is Anglo and Hispanic, Christ is Chinese and black, Christ is Vietnamese and Irish," said the pope, who went on to name Koreans, Italians, Japanese, Filipinos, Native Americans, Croatians, Samoans and others. Applause punctuated mention of each group.
All cultures, he said, "are constantly challenged by consumerism and a pleasure-seeking mentality." "In these situations," the pope said, "the church's witness may be, even must be, unpopular."