On September 12, 1987, Pope John Paul II made a pilgrimage to New Orleans as part of his trip to the United States.
The visit, which marked the first time a sitting Pope visited the Crescent City, included worship at St. Louis Cathedral as well as a visit to Xavier University to speak on education and a memorable mass service that was held on the lakefront attended by 130,000.
Years later, Archbishop Philip Hannan, who was in the final months of his tenure as Archbishop of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, considered Pope John Paul II’s visit his best day ever. Along with that, in the months after the Pope’s visit, 75% of the people polled in a survey conducted by the Times-Picayune said that seeing Pope John Paul II renewed their spirituality.
“If you’ve had a mystical moment prayer wise or mediation wise,” said one of the celebrants at the lakefront mass, “where something happens and it happened, then your faith is real at any given moment.”
A few months after the Pope’s visit, the Saints, which came close to the playoffs four years earlier, would reach the promised land for the first time, defeating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to clinch a berth in the playoffs in Week 13. And while the joy didn’t last long as the Vikings dethroned the Saints 44-10 in the first round of the playoffs, the Pope’s visit coupled with the first playoff berth in franchise history made 1987 the “year of the miracle” in New Orleans.
Thirty years later, a young lady from East Tennessee as well as a running back from Atlanta helped contribute to another “year of the miracle” in the Crescent City.
For almost three years, going back to the year before I moved to New Orleans, I had been following on Twitter an ardent Braves fan named Katie who lived in East Tennessee. Because I had a history of making fun of Brave fans, especially after the infamous Wild Card game in 2012, she got caught in the crossfire of the jokes.
“Deep down you love my Braves thing,” she once said to me.
“Also you’re cute and passionate about baseball,” I retorted.
Eventually, whatever hope I had as far as meeting her went out the window as I was starting a new life in New Orleans, moving to the city in August of 2015 and in turn, crushing whatever chance I had at meeting her.
That is, until March of this year.
A week after Fat Tuesday, while enjoying a much needed break from the craziness of Carnival, Katie announced that she was heading to New Orleans in June.
“This isn’t a joke?” I asked, “You’re coming here?”
“I want to save time to meet you and everyone you want me to meet,” she told me.
Because I still didn’t believe this, I went to a friend of mine who was a tarot reader in Jackson Square weeks later.
“She’s fond of you,” they told me, “All I want you to do is have a good time, which I think you will with her.”
“So don’t worry about it?”
Friday June 30th:
Thousands are in town for the annual Essence Music Festival, an event I derisively called “Bougie Fest” last summer on social media.
Thanks in part to the kindness of my neighbor who was a tarot reader in the Quarter, I was able to do some deliveries to Mid City New Orleans and the Central Business District (our term for downtown area).
After the last delivery, I went back to Uptown to drop my delivery bag off at the house and went upriver to Washington Avenue, the main road for second lines Uptown. As I made the right turn at LaSalle Street, I started counting the streetlights from Washington Avenue to Canal Street in my head (by the way, it’s 14).
By the time I reached Elk Place & Cleveland Avenue, I was still unsure if I was actually going to meet Katie. After all, it was Essence weekend and the last place I wanted to be was on Bourbon with thousands of people trying to find a friend of mine.
“If this doesn’t happen,” I said to myself as I walked towards Toulouse, “I’m going to the house.”
After chewing out a street pastor for wasting my time, I went up towards Boogie Woogie, a gift shop on Bourbon and heard someone call my name.
“Ryne?” a voice shouted out. It was Katie.
In times like these you don’t give a damn about your hat flying off your head or worried that some street hustler might sell you beads.
Those things are out the window when you experience a once-in-a-lifetime moment like I did.
Meeting Katie, as opposed to other people I’ve met from social media in New Orleans, was almost akin to how people thirty years earlier felt when the Pope came to the city. It restored my faith in humanity and more importantly showed me that family isn’t always blood relatives.
A few days prior to Thanksgiving, another chapter to the year of the miracle would be written.
Sunday November 20th
“We’re not going to win this game,” I told my one-time radio partner Kirk “Fam” Washington as the Saints played the Redskins.
“Yea we are,” he said.
“No, man,” I said, “We’re playing like shit.”
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, I shut the television off and decided to take a nap. In the process, I also checked my Twitter timeline for updates on the game.
Then it happened.
With the score 31-23 in favor of Washington, Alvin Kamara, who was neglected like an orphan at Tennessee, inched the Saints closer with an 18-yard TD catch to make it 31-29. After a successful two-point conversion from Kamara, the game was heading to overtime.
“Oh my God,” I said, “We might win this.”
In overtime, Will Lutz kicks a short field goal to continue the annus mirabulus (Latin for “year of the miracle”) for the Saints, improving their record to 8-2.
Much like the night I met Katie on Bourbon, one that prompted me to write a column for Where Ya At magazine, Alvin Kamara and the 2017 Saints gave all of us here in southeast Louisiana something to believe in.
Reiterating what was said thirty years earlier, whenever something happened and it happened, our faith at the present moment, whether it’s a mustard seed of faith, is real.
Hopefully, our faith will lead us to a second Lombardi Gras.