Pope mingles with high and low in New York visit

Published: Saturday 26th September 2015 by The News Editor

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Sweeping through the landmarks of America’s biggest city, Pope Francis offered comfort to 9/11 victims’ families at ground zero, warnings to world leaders at the United Nations and encouragement to schoolchildren in Harlem as he mixed the high and low ministry so characteristic of his papacy.

In the early evening, he led a jubilant parade through New York’s Central Park past a crowd of about 80,000 and celebrated Mass at Madison Square Garden, usually the site of basketball games and rock concerts, but this time the scene of a solemn service celebrating New York in all its diversity.

“Living in a big city is not always easy,” Francis told 18,000 people at the Garden, easily one of the most respectful crowds the arena has ever seen. “Yet big cities are a reminder of the hidden riches present in our world in the diversity of its cultures, traditions and historical experiences.”

Later the Vatican spokesman the Rev Federico Lombardi said that after his whirlwind day, the Pope was clearly tired and had some aches and pains because he has missed his physiotherapy while on the road.

Francis, 78, who suffers from sciatica and has a bad knee, has physiotherapy twice a week. During his 10-day trip, he has needed help getting up and down stairs and was taken around the UN and Madison Square Garden in a golf cart.

Mr Lombardi said the golf cart was planned before the trip, not added at the last moment, to spare the pontiff excess walking.

But Mr Lombardi added: “He has still energy for the last two days” of his US-Cuba trip.

The security surrounding Francis has been extraordinarily tight, particularly for a pontiff who prizes interacting with everyday people. But Mr Lombardi said the pontiff was prepared for the safeguards and accepted them as a necessity of coming to America.

Mr Lombardi saif it was clear that “the Pope, personally, does not like a lot of security around him”, but it was up to any host country to determine what it needed to do to keep him safe. And, he said, the Pope realised the level of protection would be very high in the US.

Francis drew huge, adoring crowds while also managing to connect one-on-one with countless New Yorkers, despite extraordinarily tight security that closed off many streets and kept most spectators behind police barricades.

“As he passed by, you passed a cool, refreshing peace, as if he were spreading a huge blanket of peace through the crowd,” Ruth Smart of Brooklyn said of the procession in Central Park. “Even though the crowd exploded in a roar, it was pure joy.”

He now flies to Philadelphia for a big Vatican-sponsored rally for Catholic families. As many as one million people are expected for the closing Mass on Sunday, the last day of Francis’ six-day, three-city visit to the US, the first of his life.

In his speech at the UN the Pope decried the destruction of the environment through a “selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity”.

He declared the environment itself had rights and that mankind had no authority to abuse them, presenting his mantra to world leaders in hopes of spurring concrete commitments at the upcoming climate-change negotiations in Paris.

He demanded immediate access for the world’s poor to adequate food, water and housing, saying they have the right to lodging, labour and land.

Francis’ speech, delivered in his native Spanish, received repeated rounds of applause from an audience that included German chancellor Angela Merkel, Bill and Melinda Gates, and Nobel peace laureate Malala Yousefzai, the young Pakistani activist shot and gravely wounded by the Taliban.

The ovations contrasted sharply with the moment of silent prayer during the Pope’s visit later to ground zero for an interfaith tribute to the September 11 2001 terror attack victims.

After praying before the waterfall pools that mark the spot where the twin towers once stood, Francis met relatives of the 3,000 victims whose names are inscribed on the water’s edge.

Monica Iken-Murphy, whose husband, bond trader Michael Patrick Iken, died in one of the towers, said: “This is where loved ones lost their lives … and this is the way we are going to honour them by having someone who is holy, closest to God, Pope Francis, come here and bless this site.

“I couldn’t be prouder to share this memorial and museum with him.”

Francis’ afternoon schedule reflected the penchant of the “people’s pope” for engaging with the public, starting with a visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels School, set amid public housing in the heavily Hispanic neighborhood of East Harlem.

He joked and chatted happily with pupils in Spanish, shook hands and posed for a few selfies. But a security guard intervened when one girl gave him a big hug.

The Pope – who says he has not watched TV in decades and does not know how to work a computer – even got a lesson in how to use a touchscreen from fourth-grader Kayla Osborne, eight.

The crowd in the gym included about 150 immigrants and refugees, some of them in the US illegally.

In his remarks, Francis recalled Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, saying: “His dream was that many children like you could get an education. It is beautiful to have dreams and to be able to fight for them.”

Published: Saturday 26th September 2015 by The News Editor

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