When Pope John Paul II visited Columbia on Sept. 11, 1987 as part of an ecumenical conference on the USC campus, South Carolina had the nation’s smallest percentage of Catholics – just 2.1 percent of the state’s 3.35 million residents.
And while the size of anticipated crowds around the city did not live up to the pre-visit hype, thousands of enthusiastic residents and students cheered the pope as his Mercedes-Benz Popemobile made a lap around the University of South Carolina Horseshoe..
“It is wonderful to be young,” the Pope told the students. “It is wonderful to be young and to be a student. It is wonderful to be young and to be a student at the University of South Carolina.”
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, who was there as a USC freshman, said the visit has had long-lasting impact on the city. “When you have a visit of that level – a state visit – of a person who probably has more world-wide influence than anyone else on the planet it adds a great deal of credibility to your city.”
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The pope, on a 10-day visit to North America, spoke to parishioners at St. Peter’s Catholic Church downtown, and most of the state’s religious leaders took part in an interchurch worship service in a packed Williams-Brice Stadium. .
It was the first and only visit of a pope to South Carolina.
Janet Jones Kendall