Pope Vignettes: Nonstop Pope Francis makes big impression on NYC

By: | Published: September 27, 2015 2:09 PM

From the United Nations to the Sept. 11 memorial to Central Park to Madison Square Garden - and everywhere in between - there was no escaping Pope Francis this week in New York City.

From the United Nations to the Sept. 11 memorial to Central Park to Madison Square Garden – and everywhere in between – there was no escaping Pope Francis this week in New York City. Catholics and non-Catholics alike strained to see the Pontiff, with mixed success. Some got close enough to receive blessings. Many had to settle for catching a glimpse of him tooling around by motorcade in his black Fiat 500. Here’s a look at varied impressions made by the nonstop pope on his frantic two-day visit:


A few hours before Francis arrived at Kennedy Airport, Iluminada Gubatan received word that she and her ailing 27-year-old son, Garard, would be among about 200 people allowed to greet the pope on the tarmac.

She was assuming Francis would pass by. But she watched in awe as he stopped to touch Garard, who has cerebral palsy.

”I was frozen,” she said. ”(Garard) was elated and I was speechless.”

Francis also blessed 12-year-old Julia Buzzese, who was in a wheelchair because of what her family calls a mystery illness. The blessing gave her mother, Josephine, hope she’d see her daughter walk again.

”I was praying for a miracle today,” the mother said, ”and it’s going to happen.”


Bernadette Princiotta, who lost her firefighter brother in the Sept. 11 terror attacks, was among those who waited for hours to see the pope Friday on his visit to the memorial.

The 58-year-old came away ”torn” because Francis was surrounded by politicians and security and she could barely see him. When she tried to take his photo, a Secret Service agent got in the way.

”What are you going to do? Gotta protect the pope,” she said.

Elizabeth Holmes and Nancy Mercado, once Sept. 11 rescue workers, were at the same gathering looking to reconnect with the church. The two Catholics said they have been together for 25 years and married when it became legal in New York in 2011.

Holmes, 47, expressed optimism that Francis will move the church closer to accepting LGBT relationships.

”I already feel more welcome,” she said. ”I don’t feel as stigmatized.”


Roberto Morales summed up his feelings this way: ”I’m not interested in the pope. I’m interested in the church.”

The 71-year-old is still smarting from the closure of his church, Our Lady Queen of Angels, in 2007 in a reorganization that merged parishes in response to demographic shifts and a priest shortage.

Morales and about 10 neighbors have kept up their faith by holding impromptu services in the courtyard of their apartment building every Sunday.

He doubts even the pope could summon the kind of power it would take to reopen his church.

”I hope that a miracle happens,” he said. ”I don’t believe it will, but I hope.”


With a stockpile of Pope Francis merchandise mounted on a handheld cardboard palette, Jason Thomas made his way through the crowd on Fifth Avenue. He quickly lightened his load as he sold off pope lanyards and Vatican flags for $10 each, with a ”Welcome to America” pin with a picture of the pope’s face on it thrown in for free.

”I’m an entrepreneur in America,” Thomas said. ”I can send you a receipt and everything.”

Thomas, 25, is from St. Louis and travels the country selling merchandise at big events like football games and political rallies. Just last week he was in Dallas for a Cowboys’ game Sunday and a Donald Trump rally Monday. But the pope’s visit is the big event.

”I’ve got thousands invested in this,” he said. With the three cities combined, Thomas said, he could bring in around $10,000.

Associated Press writers Verena Dobnik, Karen Matthews, Michael Balsamo, Jackie Snow and William Mathis contributed to this report.

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