This post was written by Fr. Michael Morris, Archivist of the Archdiocese of New York.
The Church in the United States was so blessed by the visit of Pope Francis last week. Pope Francis’s presence also called to mind the pastoral visits of his predecessors to America and New York in particular: Blessed Paul VI in October 1965, Saint John Paul II in 1979 and 1995, and Pope emeritus Benedict in 2008. Like Pope Francis, his recent predecessors received a very warm reception from the American people.
Before returning to Rome on the evening of October 4, 1965, Blessed Paul visited the Vatican Pavilion on the grounds of the 1964-1965 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadow, Queens. There he visited the chapel, as well as Michelangelo’s Pieta on loan from the Vatican, concluding with an apostolic blessing to the peoples of all nations. A few days later, the World’s Fair closed and all of the structures, with the exception of the iconic Unisphere, the New York City and New York State Pavilions, a time capsule, and some statuary were left in the park.
In June 1967, Francis Cardinal Spellman, archbishop of New York, and the Most Rev. Bryan J. McEntegart, bishop of Brooklyn dedicated a large exedra (a semi-circular stone bench), permanently marking the spot of the Vatican Pavilion. It is located east of the New York State Pavilion (with its familiar three “staggered” space-aged towers), and next to the old “Astral Circle” (where young people now perform their hair-raising stunts on state-of-the-art skateboards). It is worth visiting. Say a little prayer there at the spot and you can be sure that you might get a little emotional. God is so good!