Ever wonder what it’s like to have a 6000 pound, 10 foot tall version of yourself? Well, Pope John Paul II didn’t have to. In 1987, he visited Hamtramck to celebrate the Polish community. The result: a wonderful larger-than-life statue built in a small lot called Pope Park. The base of the statue is perhaps taller than the statue itself. The Pope, with arms wide open, has a pleasant smile as his regalia droops low defining the edges of his upper torso. It’s a must see for anyone visiting Detroit. It celebrates the better side of struggle; solidarity through adversary.
Pope John Paul II was born on May 18, 1920 in Wadowice, Poland and passed away on April 2, 2005. Taking great lengths to avoid being thrown into World War II, he worked in stone cutting and chemical plants for a few years. Eventually becoming a priest, he studied at Jagiellonian University in philosophy and theology. Finally in 1967, he was appointed Cardinal. Although he was a long shot for the papal throne, the mysterious death of Pope John Paul I led to a re-vote whereby Karol Józef Wojtyła, was finally gifted the papal throne and took the name Pope John Paul II.
His visit to Hamtramck did not come without reason. It’s important to note that Karol’s cousin served on city council in the 1940s and 50s, making the visit a necessary plan of action. 10,000 of Hamtramck’s 20,000 residents were polish. Families celebrated the presence of his Holiness in a vast ocean of people, perhaps the biggest crowd the town had ever seen. As they reached out to grab him again and again, the Pope gracefully reached back to as many people as he could. His statue was a reminder of that moment they can remember together forever. For the Pope, it was about standing strong for his polish background in a position dominated by Italian men. Perhaps, visiting Hamtramck was a way for him to embrace his heritage and to stand for something more than just his Papacy.
20 committees were assigned to organizing the event. Bishop Dale Melczek was in charge of the committees, putting the puzzle pieces together in nine months to make everything work. Considering it was only two days, he said that organizing the Pope’s visit was the biggest challenge of his life. Of course, part of these plans involved Mass, which took place at the Silverdome, packed with 100,000 people. Surely, this was a wonderful day for Hamtramck and the families who attended the event.
There's a video of the news coverage from 1987 posted here.
— Kenneth Beatty