A rainbow shone over Central Park on Sept. 25, as 100,000 people of all shapes, sizes, creeds and colors gathered to catch a glimpse of the people’s pope.
Pope Francis, during his six-day, three-city tour of the United States, led a procession through Central Park after a visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem for New Yorkers to get a chance to see him.
The hordes of people that trudged slowly towards the 61st Street entrance to the park were quiet almost to a whisper, as if somehow they were listening to hear Pope Francis coming from the distance. As onlookers neared the security checkpoint, the whisper turned into low rumble of voices and then, in anticipation of the pope’s arrival on the scene, into a thunderous roar.
“I’ve never seen so many people this excited,” Marco Gaspare, a Brooklyn native who also attended the pope’s service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Sept. 24, said. “So much peace, so much love all around no matter who you are. That’s why all these people are here.”
Gaspare, who now lives on Long Island, came to New York City to witness the historic papal visit.
Pope Francis did not only draw a crowd of Catholics, but supporters from a myriad of religions. Sherri Starr, another Long Island resident, said she came with four of her friends despite being Jewish.
“I heard on the radio that tickets were free and I thought it was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she said. “I told everyone to apply and wound up with six tickets.”
Pastor David Stancil, a Presbyterian minister at Resurrection Brooklyn Church at 334 S. Fifth St. in Williamsburg, also came to catch a passing glance of the pope.
“I thought it’s be a once in a lifetime chance,” he said. “I think he does a lot of good things to bring people closer to the person of Jesus.”
Pope Francis’s leadership has become characterized by his concern for the poor, activism against climate change and aid for the ongoing migrant crisis in Europe. He is loved by many in the United States, both by young people, who see him as a refreshing voice of change in the Catholic Church and older generations who see him as a an embodiment of Catholic charity.
Rosaria Critanielli, a native of Apullia, Italy who now lives in New York, said the pope’s dedication to the poor helps bring people back to the faith.
“I am not very religious but this pope has an outstanding personality,” she said. “Something is changing, slowly but surely.”
The Argentine pope also had no shortage of countrymen present in New York either. Countless Argentinian flags and Lionel Messi jerseys were visible throughout the crowd.
However, the pope’s desire to be as accessible as possible made him a security nightmare for both his own personal security detail and the NYPD.
“I am in the 40th [precinct] in the South Bronx and I finished a tour last night and came straight here,” Officer Llanos of the NYPD said. “I’ve been here since 3 a.m., but that’s just the nature of the beast, you know.”
Llanos said he had seen papal pilgrims camping out in front of Central Park since 1 a.m. that morning and even provided some with food and water.
“People don’t come prepared with enough snacks and water,” he said. “We just want to keep everyone safe while they are here.”