Photo by Monica Musetti-Carlin
Blessing in Central Park
Each morning I check my phone, email and Facebook page for messages. Wednesday morning there was a general message posted on Facebook from a friend in the city asking if anyone could use the two tickets she had to see the pope in Central Park, as she was unable to attend.
Being a firm believer of ‘if opportunity knocks, open the door,’ I immediately answered, saying, “I’ll take them!” I was meant to see Pope Francis on his momentous visit to New York.
I texted and called around to several friends who I knew would be happy to join me in what I’d hoped would be a life-changing experience. My former co-worker Loren Christie, who’d been my first choice, contacted me the next day to say she’d just been thinking she couldn’t believe she wouldn’t get to see the pope when my phone call reached her. She had to listen to it twice because she couldn’t believe it. On Friday, our pilgrimage commenced on the Long Island Rail Road.
Avoiding public transportation once we got to 34th Street in Manhattan, we walked the 30 blocks up to 60th Street and Broadway. Our assigned entry point was between 61st and 63rd Streets. It was all extremely organized, with the police and Homeland Security agents everywhere. After being turned away at the first two streets, we were directed to a long line. We joined the line and moved along with hundreds of others to the security gates to gain entrance to the park.
The sun was shining; it was a beautiful autumn day. Being true New Yorkers, we spoke to everyone and exchanged stories with the different people we ended up standing next to on line as we slowly moved to our destination. I have to admit, it was a bit daunting to be in such a large crowd, but the spirit in the air was positive and the anticipation great.
Along the way, someone had a cardboard replica of the pope that of course we all photographed. It did look real. There were babies in carriages nibbling snacks, gray-haired matrons from the Upper East Side dressed to the nines, young college students skipping school for the day and the two of us, seasoned journalists with our hearts full at the thought of where we were. At one point, someone had lost their tickets and had to walk back through the line, 10 deep with people, to look for it. A huge cheer echoed through rows of people when they found it!
Once in the park, we were assigned to our area and found a high mound to stand on, which was pretty close to where the pope would pass. The mood was alternately calm and frenetic. A group of women were singing hymns in Spanish and we all applauded. A rainbow appeared in the sky, literally “out of the blue,” and we all took it as a wonderful sign; then another rainbow appeared... no one could believe their eyes. Loren said when she’d seen Pope John Paul II 20 years earlier, a double rainbow appeared then, too. That story was circulated through the crowd. We began getting text messages and phone calls from home saying Pope Francis had just left the uptown school he was visiting and would be in the park in 10 minutes, which raised the level of excitement. As anticipation continued to grow, his entourage arrived. Helicopters overhead, flashing lights and finally the pope himself, blessing the crowd as he was driven past in his “popemobile.”
Pope Francis, the “Holy See” as he was introduced in his message to Congress, is sometimes called the “People’s Pope” because he appears to be extremely approachable and open. He tirelessly visited as many venues as possible on his trip to the U.S., spreading his message of hope, undoubtedly reaching his American flock as no other pope has before.
On our way back to the LIRR, Loren and I walked through Times Square, where the pope’s image was emblazoned amid the other illuminated billboards and signs. He was everywhere. Exhausted, we stopped for dinner at an Irish pub, where we watched the Mass being said at Madison Square Garden on television. Beautiful music played in the background as we ate and chatted with our dinner neighbors who had also been to Central Park.
Although Pope Francis didn’t personally speak to us, his messages from snippets of speeches I’d heard during his visit echoed in my thoughts. “America, the land of the free...the home of the brave,” he said, and I thought, ‘yes, that’s who we are.’ I also remembered he’d said that we as people have a mission, responsibility and are called to defend the dignity of citizens for the common good. These are the thoughts that bring tears to my eyes and I can say, ‘Yes, seeing Pope Francis was a life-changing experience for me.’ I know it was a special experience for my friend Loren as well, and I’m so happy I was able to share it with her, someone who cared about seeing him as much as I did.
We were blessed by Pope Francis on that day and we will remember it for a lifetime.
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