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Shillong recalls Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1986

Shillong, April 27: For the Catholic faithful of the Shillong archdiocese, in particular, and the Northeast in general, the canonisation of Pope John Paul II in the Vatican today was more than special.

The Polish Pope had set foot in the picturesque Golflinks on February 4, 1986, which was part of his visit to India.

Perhaps, 28 years ago, for many of those who were in that historic gathering, the idea of the then Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church being canonised someday did not strike.

Amid tight security, a cavalcade of cars had then escorted the Pope from the advance landing ground in Upper Shillong to the venue.

Vivid memories of the papal visit are still fresh among those who were witness to the grand occasion.

Former president of the Catholic Association of Khasi and Jaintia Hills, S.L. Marbaniang, recalled that over three lakh people had gathered at Golflinks to welcome and to hear what the Pope had wanted to share with them.

Marbaniang, who is also a former minister in the Meghalaya government, said the Pope was allowed to be in Shillong for a mere three hours only.

“There were three people who were instrumental in bringing Pope John Paul II to Shillong — the then Union minister Purno Agitok Sangma, the then Meghalaya chief minister Williamson A. Sangma, and the then Meghalaya Assembly Speaker E.K. Mawlong,” he recalled.

Recalling the Pope’s homily, Marbaniang said Pope John Paul II had, among other things, stressed on the significance of one’s culture.

“I could see his (Pope John Paul II) love for the indigenous people. He even uttered the word khublei (thank you) thrice,” he reminisced. The charismatic Archbishop Hubert D’Rosario was the then prelate of the Shillong archdiocese.

Echoing Marbaniang, Shillong archdiocese vicar-general Father John Madur recalled, “The one vivid and most touching memory that I have of the visit was when the Pope said love your own culture, respect your own culture, and that the Gospel does not do violence to any culture.”

Father Madur said people from various states of the Northeast had come to be a part of the momentous event.

The Golflinks area falls under the St Peter and Paul parish in Pynthorumkhrah, and its parish priest Father Ioanis Warpakma said the idea of altering the name of the parish, following Pope John Paul II’s canonisation, could be pondered upon.

In fact, today evening, the Catholic faithful of the parish took out a candlelight procession beginning from the place where the Pope had set foot. A bust of the Polish Pope was also consecrated.

“The gathering during that papal visit was remarkable. I was particularly impressed by the Pope’s love for the people cutting across all ages and status. Some of those who were witness to that visit said they were impressed when the Pope, after he had alighted from the vehicle, knelt down to kiss the ground,” Father Warpakma said.

Perhaps, for many of those who were there on that Tuesday gathering at the Golflinks, would today consider themselves fortunate for having seen the person, who would, 28 years later, become a saint, in their own backyard.