Non-Catholics find connection with pope’s simple message

Juan Martinez, Katiria Michel, and their son Adrian, 8. (CNS photo/David Agren)

Juan Martinez, Katiria Michel, and their son Adrian, 8.  The couple are not Catholic, but admire the pope for his message and simplicity. (CNS photo/David Agren)

By David Agren

NEW YORK — Katiria Michel, a medical consultant and mother of two, confessed having a crush — albeit an unconventional one.

“I have a huge crush on Pope Francis,” she said from a hair salon in Spanish Harlem, across the street from the Catholic school the pope is scheduled to visit Sept. 25.

“It’s an admiration,” she said, pointing out his low-key lifestyle, foregoing the perks of the papal palace and dining daily with everyone else. “That’s why I connect with him.”

Pope Francis is winning fans during his first visit to the United States.

Some of those fans are non-Catholic, like Michel and her husband, Juan Martinez, also a medical consultant, both of whom who identify as “Christian.” Both expressed interest in the pope’s message and awe with his mannerisms.

New York City is considered the cradle of capitalism, but people experience excesses and inequalities. This makes living there increasingly out of reach for ordinary families –- like Michel and Martinez, who moved to neighboring New Jersey. Martinez hopes the pope’s visit brings about something new.

“This city needs a wake-up call,” Martinez said, while waiting for his daughter Amanda, 12, to have her hair cut. “His mantra is: simplify things. … It’s humbling people. You need to remember who you are.”

Amanda Martinez, 12, sits in a Harlem hair salon across the street from the Catholic school Pope Francis will visit Sept. 25. Her parents are not Catholics, but admire the pope for his message and simplicity. (CNS photo/David Agren)

Amanda Martinez, 12, sits in a Harlem hair salon across the street from the Catholic school Pope Francis will visit Sept. 25.  (CNS photo/David Agren)

The pope’s calls for a more inclusive economy and action on climate change are coming under scrutiny, with some commentators questioning if he’s a communist or even Catholic. Michel and Martinez, who grew up in the Bronx, found the criticism uncalled for.

“What’s the next thing they’re going to call him, a racist?” Michel said. “It’s natural to try and look for a way to bring him down.”

The pope arrives this afternoon in New York, where he will address the United Nations, celebrate Mass at Madison Square Garden and attend a multireligious gathering at the 9/11 Memorial at ground zero.

He also heads to Harlem, an area that is home to many arriving in the United States without legal permission.

Martinez, a product of parochial schools, opted instead to send his children to a charter school. Neither he nor his wife will see the pope in person, though.

“I’d rather watch on TV,” Michel said. “I’m not good with crowds.

Follow Agren on Twitter: @el_reportero

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