By Seth T. Gonzales
NEW YORK — Hours before Pope Francis arrived in New York for the second leg of his trip to the United States, well-wishers were already lining the security barricades outside the Vatican nunciature just east of Central Park, where the Holy Father will reside during his stay in the Big Apple.
New York City police officers and U.S. Secret Service began tightening security on the nunciature’s surrounding blocks days before the pope was scheduled to arrive. By midday Thursday, vehicular and pedestrian traffic was being diverted using barricades, police vehicles and sanitation trucks. A checkpoint was installed and an NYPD command post set up as part of many security measures intended to keep the pontiff safe.
All that didn’t stop curious onlookers from milling about and occasionally taking selfies.
Daniel Aguilar-Zapata walked six blocks from his office at New York Presbyterian Weill/Cornell Medical Center to get a view of the scene and hopefully, a view of the pope. A native of Mexico, said he and his family saw St. John Paul II twice during the late pontiff’s visits to the country.
“After Pope John Paul II died, we never thought we would see another pope who was so close to us,” Aguilar-Zapata said. “But now with a Latin American pope and a Spanish-speaker as well we recognize a lot of the Latin influence in him. For us it’s very important because we are very deep into tradition.”
After picking up her two daughters from grade school, Gina Raffin decided to bring them to the nunciature in the hopes of catching a glimpse of Pope Francis.
“I remember seeing John Paul in Chicago and the excitement he brought, so I think it’s important for my children that if they can have that experience I would love for them to have it,” Raffin said.
Her daughter, Mia, said she was hoping to shake Pope Francis’ hand.
“I think it’s exciting because we’re going to see him really up close,” Mia said. “He’s different than any other pope. He makes you really happy when you see him. It just feels different.”
By 8 p.m., New York City police officers had completely sealed off vehicular and pedestrian traffic around the nunciature. A half hour later, the pope arrived and went straight into the nunciature to rest for the night.
Melissa Levinson and two of her friends made their way to the nunciature after a day of classes at Marymount Manhattan College. She said Pope Francis is appealing to people regardless of their culture or religion.
“I’m Jewish and I’m so excited to see him come,” Levinson said. “He just seems like he’s very compassionate and really wants to help everyone. Yes, he’s the pope and he’s the head of the Catholic Church, but he’s the people’s pope.”
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