Pope Francis continues historic U.S. trip with visit to New York
After a three-day trip to Washington, the pontiff landed in the Big Apple for the second leg of his U.S. trip.
NEW YORK--After issuing a blunt challenge on climate change to world leaders at the United Nations, followed by a nearly whispered plea for peace at the site of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Pope Francis carried his advocacy for immigrants to Harlem, where he met with schoolchildren and delivered what amounted to a grandfatherly parable about immigration.
Arriving at at Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic elementary school in East Harlem, where nearly 70 percent of the children are Hispanic, Francis high-fived the students and noted that some of them were from “other places, even from other countries.”
“That is nice!” he said, in his native Spanish. “Even though I know that it is not easy to have to move and find a new home, new neighbors and new friends. It is not easy. At the beginning it can be hard, right? Often you have to learn a new language, adjust to a new culture, even a new climate. There is so much to learn!”
At nearly every stop on his U.S. trip—most notably with President Obama and the White House, and his address to the U.S. Congress—Francis has stepped directly into the highly charged political debate over immigration, urging an open embrace of immigrants, especially those coming to the United States from Central and South America.
With the children, the 78-year-old pontiff again argued — albeit in the form of a children’s story — that newcomers make a society stronger.
Pope Francis arrives at the U.N.
Pope Francis arrives at the United Nations in New York to speak to the U.N. General Assembly. (Reuters)
“The good thing is that we also make new friends, we meet people who open doors for us, who are kind to us,” Francis told the children. “They offer us friendship and understanding, and they try to help us not to feel like strangers--like foreigners. To feel at home…School then ends up being one big family. One where, together with our mothers and fathers, our grandparents, our teachers and friends, we learn to help one another, to share our good qualities, to give the best of ourselves, to work as a team and to pursue our dreams.”
The pope toured a classroom, speaking to students in both English and Spanish.
“Yo soy de Argentina como usted,” said one boy in a purple school uniform, telling the pope he was also from Agentina.
He prayed the Hail Mary and the Lord’s Prayer with the children, and received gifts of a cross, and a soccer ball and jersey from a young man who showed the pontiff his fancy footwork first. He accepted a tool belt and hard hat from a representative of a workers union with immigrant members.
He told the students, in Spanish, that he was assigning them homework: “Pray for me, so that I can share with many people the joy of Jesus.”
“Don’t for get the homework!” he said in English as he left.
From Harlem, Francis was expected to make a swing in his popemobile through Central Park, where thousands of people lined his route to catch a glimpse of a religious leader who has thoroughly dominated the U.S. airwaves and headlines since he arrived earlier this week.
What Pope Francis said, what Americans think VIEW GRAPHIC
Victoria Gjelaj, 55, a real estate broker from Shrub Oak, N.Y., waited for hours to see Francis. She drove in to see him, and parked on the street.
“I heard they won’t tow,” she said. “But even if they do, it’s okay. It’s the Pope!”
The “holy man,” as she calls him, uplifts her.
“He’s a peacemaker,” she said. “When he appears, it’s like the experience I sometimes get lighting a candle in church. It’s peaceful and beautiful.”
In the morning, Francis received a rapturous welcome in Manhattan during appearances at Ground Zero and at the United Nations, where he urged world leaders to replace “solemn commitments” with “concrete steps” to tackle climate change.
On his fourth whirlwind day in the United States, the pope said grief remains “palpable” when he visited the Lower Manhattan attack site. With former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg by his side, he met with relatives of emergency personnel who were among the nearly 3,000 people who died after two airplanes struck the World Trade Center.
In the address to the U.N. General Assembly, his first as pontiff, Pope Francis touched on a litany of international issues, including nuclear proliferation, drug trafficking and slave labor. But he dwelled most on the need to preserve the world’s ecological system, warning that further damage perpetuates “today’s widespread and quietly growing culture of waste.”
“Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity,” Pope Francis said in his native Spanish from the lectern inside the General Assembly, an audience of world leaders seated before him.
“The misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion,” he said. “In effect, a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged.”
“The poorest,” the pope said, “are those who suffer most from such offenses.”
[Full coverage: Pope Francis in New York]
At the spot where the World Trade Center once stood, Pope Francis spoke of pain and suffering, “a pain which still touches us and cries out to heaven.” But in remarks to a gathering of religious leaders, he also spoke of “heroic goodness,” praising the firefighters who “walked into the crumbling towers, with no concern for their own well-being.”
“Many succumbed; their sacrifice enabled great numbers to be saved,” he said. “This place of death became a place of life, too — a place of saved lives, a hymn to the triumph of life over the prophets of destruction and death.”
Dense crowds packed the 9/11 memorial in Lower Manhattan as the pontiff walked between the two pools that mark the site of the fallen North and South Towers with an entourage that included Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan.
“Here he comes!” shouted someone from a gathering of 1,000 relatives of victims who died in the attacks.
Some had waited hours to see the pope. Ariana Vigiano, 16, and her mother, Maria Vigiano-Trapp, 50, had arrived by 7:30 a.m., traveling from their home on Long Island. Both said they were hoping the pope would fortify their faith in God, which was shaken after Vigiano’s father, John, a New York City firefighter, died trying to rescue people from the World Trade Center.
“I’m still trying to get a little bit of closure,” Vigiano said. “I’m hoping he will say something that will really speak to me and help me feel really spiritual and try to get me in touch with my father.”
The pope met with representatives from 10 families who lost loved ones, spending at least 10 minutes talking and handing out rosaries.
He then descended to the lower level of the Ground Zero museum for an interfaith ceremony in the soaring Foundation Hall. A World Trade Center retaining wall that survived the attacks served as a solemn backdrop.
After Ground Zero, the pope is scheduled to tour a Catholic elementary school in East Harlem in the late afternoon, and then travel by motorcade past sprawling crowds in Central Park to Madison Square Garden, where he will preside at a 6 p.m. Mass before 19,000 worshipers.
Since his arrival Tuesday, the pope has addressed a number of weighty issues, expressing his support for immigrants, the need to combat climate change and his opposition to the death penalty. His speech before the United Nations, was no less substantial, providing him an opportunity to deliver to a worldwide audience his expansive views on the environment and economic and social issues.
[The Pope’s politics: What he achieved in Washington]
On his first morning in New York, Pope Francis’s chauffeur-driven Fiat and motorcade pulled up to the U.N. on Manhattan’s East Side at around 8:20 a.m., where he was greeted by the body’s Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of South Korea.
Prior to addressing the General Assembly, the pope spoke to a gathering of United Nations staff, thanking them for their work on behalf of world peace and laying a wreath for those U.N. workers who have died in service.
At the conclusion of his remarks, he offered to pray for “you and your families” and asked that they “pray for me.”
“And if any of you are not believers, I ask you to wish me well,” he said. The audience erupted in laughter and applause.
The pope’s address to the General Assembly could influence the body as it prepares to approve a set of sustainable development goals that include ending world hunger and poverty and ensuring the availability of clean energy and water.
In his speech, the pope also addressed the threat of war, saying an “urgent need” exists for a “complete prohibition” of nuclear weapons.
He also renewed “my repeated appeals regarding the painful situation in the entire Middle East, North Africa and other African countries.” There, he said, “Christians, together with other cultural or ethnic groups, and even members of the majority religion who have no desire to be caught up in hatred and folly, have been forced to witness the destruction of their places of worship, their culture and religious heritage, their houses and property, and have faced the alternative either of fleeing or of paying for their adhesion to good and to peace by their own lives or by enslavement.”
The pope also touched on “another kind of conflict, which is not always so open,” a reference to drug trafficking that he said “is silently killing millions of people.”
“Drug trafficking is by its very nature accompanied by trafficking in persons, money laundering, the arms trade, child exploitation and other forms of corruption,” he said. “A corruption which has penetrated to different levels of social, political, military, artistic and religious life, and, in many cases, has given rise to a parallel structure which threatens the credibility of our institutions.”
Shortly before the pope’s U.N. address, Washington’s political class was shaken by news that House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) will resign at the end of October. The announcement came one day after the Catholic Boehner welcomed the pope to the U.S. Capitol. Before revealing his plans at a meeting of House Republicans, Boehner tweeted photographs of himself with Francis under the words: “What a day.”
As his first trip to the United States entered its fourth day, Pope Francis, the spiritual leader for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, visited places and embraced themes that allowed him to express commitment to people who are poor, dispossessed, and suffering.
In his trip to the United States, a five-day tour that includes Washington, New York and Philadelphia, jubilant crowds have showered the 78-year-old spiritual leader with adoration as he has traveled between stops, many of which have highlighted his commitment to the poor and dispossessed.
On Thursday, Pope Francis implored congressional leaders at the U.S. Capitol to set aside bitter partisan differences and achieve progress on immigration reform. During a visit to the White House Wednesday, the pope expressed support for President Obama’s campaign to tackle climate change.
The pope’s whirlwind day will conclude with the Mass at Madison Square Garden, where singers Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Hudson and Gloria Estefan are scheduled to perform.
On Saturday morning, Pope Francis is scheduled to travel to Philadelphia, where his stops will include the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Center City, Independence Hall and a correctional facility.
The pope flies back to Rome on Sunday.
Paul Schwartzman specializes in political profiles and narratives about life, death and everything in between.
Michelle Boorstein is the Post’s religion reporter, where she reports on the busy marketplace of American religion.
Antonio covers government, politics and other regional issues in Fairfax County. He worked in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago before joining the Post in September of 2013.
Kevin Sullivan is a Post senior correspondent. He is a longtime foreign correspondent who has been based in Tokyo, Mexico City and London, and also served as the Post’s Sunday and Features Editor.