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Pope Francis becomes the fourth pope to visit the U.S. this week as he spends two days each in Washington, D.C., New York City and Philadelphia. And while Americans have come to expect a papal visit at least once a decade, it was only 50 years ago that Pope Paul VI became the first to visit the States, greeting American Catholics in New York City on Oct. 4, 1965.
During his day in the Big Apple, Paul VI toured Harlem and Central Park, visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral, spoke at the U.N., met with President Johnson for “46 amiable minutes,” per LIFE, and held a mass at Yankee Stadium. Though his inaugural visit meant a great deal to the country’s 46 million Catholics (a number that has since grown to nearly 70 million), the real purpose of his visit was to send a message of peace.
Quoting President Kennedy, who had been killed less than two years earlier, he told the U.N. delegates, “Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.” The U.S., of course, was embroiled in the escalating conflict in Vietnam, and would be for eight more years, but the Pope was steadfast in his directive. “If you wish to be brothers,” he said, “let the arms fall from your hands.”
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.