Pope Francis Visits New York: September 25, 2015

L. R. Laverde-HansenStarred Page By L. R. Laverde-Hansen, 23rd Sep 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Reviews>Gigs & Shows

On Friday, September 25, 2015, I went to Central Park in New York to see the motorcade procession of Pope Francis. Here is my first-person account.

I Won A Lottery to See the Pope!

About two weeks ago, I entered an online lottery to see the Pope's procession. Since it was passing through New York's Central Park, the City offered up around 80,000 passes to see it. A friend on Facebook put up the information, and I decided to try out for it, not expecting to win, but I did!

This being New York, even the distribution of the tickets to see the Pope has generated controversy. Free tickets to see the Pope's procession in New York were scooped up and shamelessly offered for sale on the Internet, some for as much as hundreds of dollars. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called it, "disgusting."

Nevertheless, the arrival of the His Holiness in New York went on schedule. In a blistering itinerary on Friday, the Pope hit at least four major appointments, with his traveling through Central Park constituting a fifth. This was what I witnessed.

Arrival at Central Park

A few days before the procession, I printed out my ticket and kept it ready. The City's website told me to travel lightly since the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) would be inspecting all who entered the park. Yes, it would turn out to be an airport inspection without the airplane. Only plastic water bottles were permitted (I saw several discarded metallic water containers at security checkpoints.), and everything was to be checked. I brought a small canvas bag and made sure to have a minimum of items, such as a bottle of water, some peanuts and a notebook.

When I arrived at Central Park South, I saw that security was already at a maximum. The southern end of the park was walled off by contingents of police officers and an unattractive black chain-link fence, which literally wrapped around the park. While I appreciated the security, I had to wonder if all this effort was necessary for a drive-through which was to last for less than an hour? I asked a policeman where to proceed and he directed me westward towards Columbus Circle. Other cops glanced at my ticket and let me pass. This was the first step.

Crowds at the Park

For me the phenomenon of seeing these crowds (as well as being a part of them) was as much motivation for me to arrive, as it was for seeing the Pope in person. I saw an absolute 'sea of humanity' of every type of person coming in: men, women, children, babies, some not yet born. There were old couples and gay couples and platonic couples. Some persons ambled on canes and some rolled in on wheelchairs. There were several hawkers, peddling all types of papal-related materials from T-shirts to rosaries to Papal flags to bottled waters. I might dismiss the selling as crass commercialism, but I had bought a little wrist band with the image of the Child Jesus earlier that day (at least they weren't selling holy water).

The lines snaked several blocks past Columbus Circle up to Broadway then up and down Central Park West. Police were clearly controlling the crowds, as groups were staggered, one after another, towards the park. It goes without saying, but Central Park West was also shut down, at least to around 79 Street. I work as a tour guide, and this is my normal route on my Uptown tour, which now had to be rerouted (I took the day off once I got the ticket).

Image In the Sky

Letting us into the park would take over an hour. A few people, realizing that it was more time and trouble than they had anticipated, simply exited the line. Just like New Yorkers--they made a quick cost-benefit analysis and decided instead to watch the visit on television while sipping their evening cocktails. I was staying, but I was beginning to wonder if the waiting would end. Some people asked the police if they would get inside the park in time to see the motorcade. We were all assured we would make it (and in fact we all did; no one with tickets was denied entry.).

Then two things happened. First I saw an old friend, a woman with whom I once worked. She was always a sweet and humble person. In recent years she was battling cancer, and was worn down with it. We had lost touch through that unintentional disconnect which happens with the usual distractions of life. I was glad to see her. She did look older, but not worse than the last time I had seen her. I was happy for that, and that she was well enough to wait on the line. We were at different points on the line, but we exchanged numbers before we were separated.

While waiting, someone mentioned a rainbow in the sky. I looked up, and there it was. It wasn't raining, but the clouds must have retained some ice which was separating the sunlight. That was the probable scientific explanation, but it seemed no less miraculous.

Inside Central Park

Finally I reached the access point. Once inside the park people were directed to different checkpoints. It was exactly like airport security. I put everything, including my belt in my bag to facilitate my trip. Wouldn't you know, I forgot to take off my watch. Interestingly, I was waved forward. No one scrutinized my cellphone. I suppose the machines screen for most of the possible warning signs. Anyway, I rushed to the winding tree-lined roadway to stake my spot.

Already the lines were over twenty persons deep. Though spread out, I realized that these were tens of thousands of other people with me. Luckily I was somewhat on an incline on the spot I took near a tree (in order to have fewer people crowd around me). I knew it wouldn't be a perfect view, but I would be able to catch a large part of the procession. Hands were ready with cameras, smartphones and tablets. I admit I was no better, taking shots of the expectant crowd, waiting for a glimpse of the pontiff.

The Pope Passes By

The motorcade passed by vehicle by vehicle. I saw motorized carts, which looked like park vehicles. Then large black vans came forward, presumably operated by the Secret Service, which was charged with the Pope's personal protection during his stay here. After all, Francis is a visiting head of state. This was followed with some police cars, a truck and more black vans. Every now and then people would cheer loudly, thinking the Pope was passing around the corner. There were a few false alarms, but the level of anticipation was growing each minute.

Then I heard the loudest cheer yet. From my left the Pope came by in a white Jeep Wrangler fitted for the event. Bullet-proof glass covered the top, front and back but the sides were clearly open. He was unmistakable in his white attire. The "Popemobile" was crawling up the road, so there was time to take pictures. Of course everyone was doing the same thing, so a lot of my photographs include people's arms, heads and phones.

People were screaming. I found myself screaming as well as a feeling of uncontrollable elation took over me. It was, in my words, like a fleeting touch of the grace of God. I was overcome and felt momentarily choked up. I could not tell if this was attributable to the personal charisma of Francis, or to the massive aspirations of the crowd assembled.

In any case, the moment did not last long. He passed by around the next bend of the park, followed by the remainder of his escort. I was fascinated how this simple drive-through could be such an event. Pope Francis is a kind of mega star. I genuinely like what the man is doing, but I wondered: couldn't such fame be twisted for wicked purposes?

Nonetheless, it was refreshing to see not only the phenomenon, but the genuine collective search for the spiritual. Instead of showering praise on a debauched youth, who simply can play a guitar well or handle an MC mic, people had gathered to see a truly humble man, who still slips out of the Vatican and likes to give money to poor people in Rome.

I was touched.

Composed and Revised in New York
September 25-26, 2015


New York, Papal Visit, Pope Francis

Meet the author

author avatar L. R. Laverde-Hansen
Poet, playwright, commentator. I write wherever I can. Currently I reside in the City of New York.

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author avatar Retired
26th Sep 2015 (#)

Certainly an unforgettable experience.

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author avatar kaylar
26th Sep 2015 (#)

Oh that was very nice, I'm glad you got through.

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author avatar M G Singh
26th Sep 2015 (#)

This is a nice share

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author avatar L. R. Laverde-Hansen
27th Sep 2015 (#)

Thank you all for your very kind comments.

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author avatar Shamarie
29th Sep 2015 (#)

I am happy you were able to see Pope Francis! I know it was a great experience for you! Great share!!!

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author avatar L. R. Laverde-Hansen
29th Sep 2015 (#)

Very kind, Shamarie. Glad to read your piece as well.

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author avatar Fern Mc Costigan
29th Sep 2015 (#)

Beautiful experience indeed Laverde to see our Holy Pope and get his blessings, joyful indeed!

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author avatar L. R. Laverde-Hansen
30th Sep 2015 (#)

Thank you so much, always, Fern.

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