The Rev. Bernard McLaughlin recalled a warning from security officials as he watched the plane carrying Pope John Paul II emerge from the mist over Logan International Airport 25 years ago.
The waiting crowd of civic and religious sophisticates will rush the pope, so be ready, they had told a skeptical McLaughlin. As the pope descended to kiss the ground and greet then-first lady Rosalynn Carter, the crowd surged, and McLaughlin learned the power of one man's charisma.
''They were just overwrought by him," said McLaughlin, who helped set up the airport greeting as chaplain at Logan International Airport. ''There was something that was unavoidable. You were just drawn to him."
The fervor that accompanied the pope's arrival on Oct 1, 1979, carried through the daylong visit, his first to the United States as pope.
In Boston's Italian North End, residents greeted the pope's motorcade with a rain of confetti and cries of ''Vive il Papa!"
Priests and nuns stood on pew seats at the Holy Cross Cathedral to get a better look at the pontiff.
Around Boston Common, 400,000 people stood in driving rain as the pope celebrated Mass. Some wept. At least nine were hospitalized for nervous exhaustion.
The visit demonstrated the church's powerful grip on this Catholic city, a grip that has been loosened by changing times and a clergy sex abuse scandal that exposed church leaders as protectors of pedophile priests.
The problems the church faces today, including widespread mistrust of the hierarchy and dozens of parishes being shuttered, were unthinkable in 1979, said Ray Flynn, former mayor and former ambassador to the Vatican.
''I never would have anticipated some of the problems the church has now, and I'm a street kid from South Boston," Flynn said, a city councilor in 1979.
Boston College professor Thomas O'Connor said that in 1979, the changes to modernize the church introduced by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960 also hadn't taken firm hold. ''In a way, [the papal visit] was sort of a last glance, a last look, at the traditions of the older church, before the traditions of the newer church came in to replace them," he said.