NEW YORK – New York City’s main attraction last week was Pope Francis, who visited America’s largest city during the second leg of his first visit to the United States.
On Friday, Sept. 25, His Holiness began a day-long sweep through Manhattan, delivering a speech at the United Nations, where he addressed issues regarding the imminent effects of climate change and massive global income inequality.
From there, he traveled downtown to pay his respects at the 9/11 Memorial and participated in an interfaith ceremony with other religious leaders including Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Pope Francis also visited students at Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem, before leading the papal motorcade through Central Park. The pope ended his visit by holding Mass at Madison Square Garden, before an estimated audience of 20,000 people.
Julie Moore, a resident of Warwick, New York, was present for her second papal visit. She came to New York City in 1979 to see Pope John Paul II.
“People are drawn to this pope because they see him as a representative of change,” Moore said. “But it has always been here, the church has always been here. He’s just a fresh face for the faith.”
Moore also spoke in admiration of his humility and caring nature for the poor.
“He loves the people,” Moore said. “He wants no barriers between him and the people. This turnout is great for the pope.”
The effects of the papal visit and widespread media coverage that ensued will be the subject of great curiosity among prominent Roman Catholic leaders in America. Moore, who is very active in her own parish, said she was optimistic that his visit would inspire more people to explore Catholicism.
“My own hope for his visit is that the people on the fringes will consider accepting God into their lives,” Moore said. “He, [Pope Francis], is an extremely precious man. I hope he can turn people to the positive edge.”
Mary Ryan, a second-year marketing major at SUNY New Paltz, went down the night before to stay with her sister at Fordham University so she could have easy access to the Pope’s visit the next day. New York City experienced some of the worst traffic issues in its history as dozens of streets in Manhattan were closed for the pope’s motorcade to travel.
“I was at Central Park by 9:30 a.m. and finally got through security by 12:30 p.m.,” Ryan said. “What followed was five hours of standing there waiting for him to arrive.”
Ryan, who went with a friend who had won tickets, said she saw two other members of the Catholic Campus Ministry at the processional. Ryan said 12 tickets were offered to the Ministry for the processional, while five other members won tickets to attend that evening’s mass.
“We only saw him for all of 10 seconds, but it was powerful,” Ryan said. “I almost cried. You could feel something as he passed by.”
Anne Flamio, a second-year English major, won two tickets through an online lottery to attend the papal processional. Flamio attended the event with her mother, and while not Catholic, she said that the experience was deeply moving.
“It was a historic moment to be a part of,” Flamio said. “There were just so many people. It was like being at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.”
By the time she arrived in Manhattan, Flamio said there was already a long line of people waiting from 60th Avenue to 64th Avenue and then snaking back to 60th Avenue. There was an initial fear that she and her mother wouldn’t be able to get into Central Park, but after a lengthy wait they were allowed in. Flamio said people were crowded into their respective sections, all jockeying for the best position to see the Pope’s Fiat as it made its way through.
“People took off work and waited all day for this man,” Flamio said. “There was just a great energy there for him. He really is a man for humanity. He’s very progressive and very capable of making great change happen.”
Pope Francis’ popularity among Catholics and Americans is close to the highest ever polled.