September 25, 2015

Pope Francis Visits New York

While I am a practicing Christian, I am not Catholic, so when the Vatican announced that Pope Francis would be visiting New York as part of a three city tour of the United States I was not overcome with joy.  I was even less enthusiastic when the intended trip was scheduled to coincide with the United Nations General Assembly, a traffic nightmare of the first order, and downright contrary when organizers decided to route him through Central Park en route from a school in Harlem to celebrate Mass at Madison Square Garden.

Things did not look up when my neighborhood was inundated with signs proclaiming "NO PARKING" for days leading up to the event and "NO VEHICULAR TRAFFIC WHATSOEVER" on the day of.  Basically, my street, as well as about twenty others that abut Central Park West, were on lock-down on the day of the Pope's visit - no deliveries, no taxis, and no admittance without proof of residence.

The morning of the big day I awoke to a very large police bus parked right across the street.  It was soon joined by other police vehicles and later by two large firetrucks and other emergency vehicles.

I admit, I felt like a curmudgeon as the newscasts and papers were filled with photos and stories of ecstatic worshipers crowding into events and lining every venue of the papal motorcades.  Despite all the warnings, I was able to accomplish everything I had set out to do on this Friday and had a very nice exchange with the officer who inspected my driver's license to make sure I actually did live on my block.  Finally my curiosity got the better of me, and shortly before five o'clock, when His Eminence was scheduled to drive through Central Park, I marched down to Central Park West and joined the dozen or so other people who did not have tickets to stand on the actual route, but hoped to catch a glimpse from a distance.

Central Park West was completely shut down to traffic and we were not allowed to stand in the emergency lanes set up on the street.  Rather, we were ushered by a very nice policewoman to stand back closer to the sidewalk, next to a sanitation truck filled with sand to make an impenetrable barricade should an armed tank roll toward the Papal convoy.

 Looking South

and North

There were probably more fire and police personnel than onlookers but one police officer became an informal emcee!  He kept his walkie talkie on so we could all hear the police transmissions and knew where the motorcade was, he shooed away latecomers who tried to impede our precious view and when the moment arrived he allowed us to move forward into the safety zone so we could have a better look.

The roar of the crowd and the red and blue flashing lights told us that the Popemobile was not far away and sure enough, in the blink of an eye, the white vehicle with the Holy Father soon passed in the distance.

It was a moment in history that I am very happy not to have missed.  The anticipation of his appearance, the palpable joy of the faithful waiting for a glimpse of their leader and the pride of living in a city where something like this is possible were like electricity in the air.  For a brief moment we were all joined as one and we were all the richer for the experience.

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