As the Archdiocese of New York prepares for the arrival of Pope Francis on September 24, 2015, the Archives is taking a look back at the previous papal visits. Pope Francis will be the fourth pope to visit New York City and to speak at the United Nations since Blessed Paul VI’s historic arrival in 1965. See other posts in our blog series here, here, and here.
The majority of the material in our papal visit collections relate to the planning aspect of each visit. The entire Archdiocese was tasked with preparing for each Pope’s arrival as Papal Task Forces and Papal Visit News Centers were established prior to the visits. The planning materials are interesting as they provide researchers with an inside look at how much work is required behind the scenes.
Lists upon lists are found from each of the visits in 1965, 1979, 1995, and 2008. Many of these lists contain the names of distinguished guests who were invited to see the Pope or those who received tickets through their church. Additionally, there are meeting minutes that go as far back, for example, as eight months before John Paul II’s arrival in October of 1995. Security issues and solutions are documented within each collection, as well as the designated route the papal motorcades traveled. Entertainment contracts and permit requests also fill the folders in these collections. Transportation is also a popular planning topic as public transit routes are altered and excess parking is outlined. We even have copies of signs that were hung to designate parking for the 1995 mass in Central Park.
Numerous blueprints can be found at the Archives of venues such as Central Park in 1995 and Battery Park in 1979. They depict the construction that was necessary to transform the parks into spaces for worship. We also have a diorama of the altar from Yankee Stadium in 2008. It is an exact replica, complete with a tiny Pope Benedict XVI behind the altar.
Since 1965, the previous papal planning documents have been used to help with the organizing of the following papal visits. In July 1979, a memo was drafted to Father Edwin F. O’Brien, Vice Chancellor and coordinator of Saint John Paul II’s first visit, summarizing the planning efforts of the 1965, highlighting what worked and what did not. Currently, our Pope Benedict XVI 2008 Papal Visit Collection is downtown where it was used to aid in the planning of Pope Francis’s visit next week. We look forward to receiving the planning materials from this year’s visit!