ST. LOUIS -- Pope John Paul II arrived in the heartland Tuesday for a 30-hour visit and likened America's dispute over abortion and euthanasia to the bitter legal battle over slavery on the eve of the Civil War.
"America faces a similar time of trial," he said.
The pope met privately with the President and attended a youth rally 20,000-people strong at the Kiel Center on Tuesday night.
While the crowd was euphoric, the 78-year-old pope's opening message to the American people was more somber. His arm shook as he held the lectern, his body stooped over his text. Still, his voice was firm as urged Americans to reach for a higher moral vision.
He reminded Americans of the Dred Scott case, tried in St. Louis' Old Courthouse. Scott, a slave purchased in 1833 by an Army surgeon stationed near St. Louis, sued for his freedom. Living in a free state, he said, made him a free man.
In 1857 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in effect, that slaves were property and not citizens -- a decision, the pope said, that declared "an entire class of human beings -- people of African descent -- outside the boundaries of the national community and the Constitution's protection."
"Today," the pope went on, "the conflict is between a culture that affirms, cherishes, and celebrates the gift of life, and a culture that seeks to declare entire groups of human beings -- the unborn, the terminally ill, the handicapped, and others considered `unuseful' -- to be outside the boundaries of legal protection."
In Mexico last week, the pope signed a declaration setting out the church's goals in the Americas for the new millennium. It condemned abortion and euthanasia.