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By Lance Morrow
Anger at a would-be assassin, prayers for a much loved Pontiff
They assemble by the thousands regularly on Wednesday afternoons in St. Peter's Square: clergy and laity, Catholics and nonbelievers, pilgrims to Rome and ordinary tourists from every nation. Their common goal is to get a glimpse of the Pope, something that is far easier to do than it used to be. Papal general audiences were formerly held indoors, in St. Peter's Basilica, and the Pontiff was carried into the vast church on a portable throne called the sedia gestatoria, an aloof figure out of reach of the crowds.
But John Paul II, a Pope who believes that his mission is to carry the word of God by personal contact to anyone he can touch, has changed all that. Now, whenever the weather permits, the audiences are held outdoors in the square. Tickets, given out free by the Vatican as long as the supply lasts, are still needed by those who wish to occupy the rows of chairs and benches set up in front of the central obelisk facing the basilica. Large areas of the immense 20-acre square, however, are left open for anyone who can jam in through the encircling Bernini colonnade that the architect likened to arms of the church reaching out in love to embrace the world.
Under a spring sun that warmed the air to 66° F, a crowd of perhaps 15,000 turned out last Wednesday. It was a typical gathering: a multinational, multiracial group of waterworks officials attending a convention in Rome; Poles from St. Florian parish in Cracow, where the former Karol Cardinal Wojtyla had once been an assistant parish priest; cycling clubs from northern Italy with their bicycles; parochial school children from the U.S. shepherded by nuns; the ubiquitous Japanese tourists, cameras ever at the ready. At exactly 5 p.m., Pope John Paul II entered the square through the Arch of Bells, standing in his open-top, Jeep-like campagnola, which reporters have dubbed the Popemobile.
The Pontiff appeared relaxed and joyous. A mile and a half away, in the Piazza del Popolo, a rally organized by Italian political parties, ranging from left to center, was gathering to denounce an antiabortion proposal, strongly supported by John Paul, that was to be submitted to Italy's voters in a few days. But in St. Peter's Square, the throng was swept by the emotion that John Paul inspires in almost all who see him in person: simple friendliness. In every one of the 21 countries on five continents that the Pope has visited in his 2½ years in office, huge crowds have responded eagerly and spontaneously to his informality and delight in human contact.
So it was as the Popemobile circled St. Peter's Square through a narrow lane formed by low wooden barricades. The crowd cheered and waved white-and-gold papal flags. In the speech that was to conclude the audience, the Pope intended to revert to one of