His stop in Queens was brief but the passion and reverence from the faithful was tremendous.
Pope Francis arrived on a chartered American Airlines jet at John F. Kennedy Airport at 5:10 p.m. Thursday afternoon, beginning the second leg of his journey to the United States.
Fresh off a visit to Washington—where he delivered an address before a joint session of Congress that morning—the pontiff received an ovation by a group of 200 people, which included local Catholic school students, charity volunteers, clergy members and homeless people.
Francis’ arrival culminated a spiritual celebration near the JFK runway among those lucky enough to participate. Before the plane landed, tenor Daniel Rodriguez sang hymns and various members of the clergy led the gathering in reciting prayers of the rosary.
Once the moment arrived, the Xaverian High School marching band played “New York, New York” as Francis descended the staircase and met Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio on the tarmac.
Francis also received gifts from a group of five children from schools within the diocese—two of whom hail from Queens—who were on hand to greet the pope. They presented him with “spiritual bouquets,” bundles of flowers containing handwritten prayers for the Holy Father, as Msgr. Kieran Harrington—vicar of communications for the Diocese of Brooklyn—told reporters.
One of the presenters, Raymond Rico of Little Neck’s Divine Wisdom Catholic Academy, was excited to greet the pontiff and shake his hand.
“He said, ‘Mucho gusto,'” Rico said, prompting the youngster to reply back with the same comment.
Betty McLoughlin of Bayside, a member of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Church and the Irish Apostolates, was thrilled to just touch the pope’s cloak.
“It was just so wonderful,” she said.
Brother James McVeigh of St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows thought the experience was “a wonderful celebration of our faith,” and that he hoped Francis’ humble nature and message of mercy would resonate among Catholics of every generation.
“We need him to bring about change in people’s hearts,” he said. “His humble way is a wonderful way of reaching the people.”
Francis’ arrival at JFK wasn’t considered his official welcome to New York, Harrington noted. The official greeting took place a short time later, when Francis—whisked from JFK by helicopter—arrived in Manhattan and was met by dignitaries including Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio.
A motorcade then brought the pontiff to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a prayer service, then to the Vatican consulate, where he spent the night ahead of a busy Friday in the Big Apple.
The Holy Father will address the United Nations General Assembly on Friday morning, then participate on a multi-denominational prayer service at the National September 11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan. From there, he will head to an East Harlem Catholic school to meet students, including a Ridgewood girl attending Cardinal Hayes High School.
On Friday afternoon, some 80,000 New Yorkers are expected to get a glimpse of Pope Francis as his motorcade travels through Central Park en route to Madison Square Garden, where the pontiff will celebrate Mass before a congregation of 20,000.
Francis will then return to JFK on Saturday morning for a short flight to Philadelphia, where he will attend the World Meeting of Families.