From the S&S archives: Americans saw an omen from God
Stars and Stripes May 7, 1984
TAEGU, Korea — The reaction to Pope John Paul II's visit to Korea has been referred to as electric, intense and deeply religious. American worshippers in Taegu's public stadium sew the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in much the same way with one exception — God sent them an omen.
Just prior to the pope's entrance into the stadium the crowd witnessed e divine sign — a multi-hued ring of light emanating from the heavens.
"Did you see the halo ... the rainbow ... whatever you thought it might be?" was the question asked by Chief Warrant Officer Ken Copley of Camp Humphreys' 19th Aviation Battalion. "Now that was a miracle for all of us ... a sign of the pope's truth and faithfulness."
Five bus loads of servicemen and servicewomen and dependents viewed the religious spectacle. They traveled from bases throughout the Taegu area; they came from Camp's Henry and Walker, K-2 AB, Suwon AB, and others.
"Our chaplain arranged this trip for us," stated Capt. Dan Page, also of the 19th Aviation Battalion, "and. what we saw here today will bring us all closer together as Christians."
What Page and the others saw was not only Mass sung by the pope, but also some Koreans ordained as priests.
"This was probably one of the most important things Pope John Paul could have done here," said Marion Bergeron, a teacher with the Department of Defense Dependent School in Taegu. "There were no short cuts.... it was the full liturgy. What was so impressive was that he performed the ordination in both Korean and English."
"I know how impressed and important this was for the Koreans to hear this (the ordination) in their own language," added fellow DODDS teacher Wally Waterstreet. "The Koreans think it's great to hear foreigners speak just a word or two in their native hangul. But to hear an entire Mass and ordination was, well ... just wonderful."
Waterstreet added that he and some of his friends and even a few Koreans think of Taegu as the backwater of the country, but that the pope's visit will throw the area into the mainstream of cultural activity.
Others present in the stadium echoed his sentiments of the importance of the pope's visit here. One soldier even felt that the world would have to take a second look at Korea, putting it in a better light.
"Many of the Koreans I know think that the world looks down on them," said Spec. 4 Vincent Myers of Camp Walker's 543rd General Dispensary. "His visit here will make the entire world stop and say, `Hey, their country was good enough to host the pope.' That's very important for these people."
Though the Americans kept stressing how important the pope is for Korea they all held the occasion in reverence for themselves.
One young man, struggling to explain the feeling he had for the pope, could only think of himself as lucky.
"This is something I'll remember for the rest of my life," said 12-yearold Michael Beck, a seventh-grader from Camp Walker. "I mean, this is very special.... He is the leader of my church."
In Kwanguju the day before, the pope also sang Mass end performed a baptismal ceremony. A crowd of over 100,000 — including 41 servicemen and women — were overwhelmed by the pageantry and aura that surrounded the pope. "There will be a tremendous upsurge of grace and Christianity after this," predicted Col. Tom Prendergest, a chaplain at Kunsan AB. "The people of. this country are really going to wake up."
Other servicemembers at the Kwangju Mass felt the same way about the pope's influence.
"I'm not Korean and I'm not Catholic," stated David Greer, a staff sergeant with Kunsan 6171st AB Squadron. "But this is the most impressive thing I've ever seen."
For Tech. Sgt. Kim Leduke, a Kunsan 8th Civil Engineer, the event brought him that much closer to realizing a new faith.
"I'm trying to convert from a Lutheran to the Catholic faith," he said. "It's hard to explain the feeling he gave me, but my whole inner self could feel e charge as he spoke." Laduke said the Kwangju Mass would have the same effect on non-Catholics that it did on him. A Kunsan defense counselor agreed.
"Americans don't realize that not everyone over here is a Buddhist," said Capt. Robert Marconi. "People here want to belong to a contemporary faith; that's why there is nearly two million Catholics (in Korea)."
The Kunsan defense counselor further explained that the pope draws people to the church, and he put the the situation into military terms.
"He doesn't commend any military forces," Marconi pointed out. "But without any doubt he does command the largest, most influential and most powerful army in the world: our Catholic Church."