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. Other posts in the series look at the cancelled 1994 Papal Visit, Papal Visit Memorabilia, Papal Mass Chalices, the planning of Papal Visits, past tickets and programs, the 1965 Papal Mass at Yankee Stadium, and past papal events at Madison Square Garden. This post was written by Fr. Michael Morris, Archivist for the Archdiocese of New York.
A venerable Jesuit who has since gone back to God once said, “Before you follow a principle or movement, you follow the person.” This certainly holds true for the Apostles. Their attraction to the person of Christ was the entre to their life of service to the Gospel. And most people in this world are attracted to, or at least fascinated by the pope himself, in particular the modern popes who were known for their global travels, especially Blessed Paul VI, Saint John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and our own current Holy Father, Pope Francis. Being in the presence of a pope is something that is quite hard to describe. I had the opportunity to be in close proximity to Saint John Paul II once at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. in 1979 and on a few occasions in Rome, but for some reason, when Saint John Paul II drove out in the Popemobile onto the Great Lawn in Central Park, New York on October 7, 1995, despite being many, many yards away, I had this magnificent sense of joy and gratitude. What a wonderful day to be a Catholic and a priest! True, there were some pretty unhappy people who didn’t get the seats that they wanted, which is quite expected when one hundred and twenty-five thousand people converge on a mere fifty-acre plot of land in the heart of New York City. But all was fine once the Mass begun. That was what brought us there…the greatest gift given to us by Our Lord…the centrality of our Faith, the Eucharist, offered by our chief shepherd and future saint.
We are attracted to the person of the pope. Each pope has his own distinct gifts, style, and personality which make each of them all the more attractive. What is so magnificent about the papacy is that all two hundred and sixth-six popes can trace their roots to Peter, who recognized Christ as the Messiah that day on the shores of the Sea of Galilee as found in the Gospel of Saint Matthew, 16: 16: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” From that moment on, history has never been the same.
Pope John Paul II celebrated mass in Central Park’s Great Lawn on the third (and last) day of his second visit to New York City. The mass was attended by a crowd of over 125,000 people, and was the highlight of his visit. His message focused on the role of young people in the Church and the world. Despite the rainy weather, people turned out in droves to see the Pope, who drove through Central Park in the Popemobile before the mass. During Pope Francis’ upcoming visit, he will also be greeted by crowds of New Yorkers, as he is expected to drive through Central Park on his way to mass at Madison Square Garden.