October 8, 2015 by Maggie Maloney
Pope Francis kept to a meticulously planned out schedule during his first trip to New York, including visits to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the United Nations, the World Trade Center, Central Park and Madison Square Garden. While most New Yorkers need tickets to get up close and personal with the Pontiff, some savvy residences devised an alternate strategy. There were numerous street closures to make way for the Pope and his 30-car strong motorcade, including 66th street which was closed from the FDR drive to Broadway, including a route through the park. This was Pope Francis’ primary route of getting around the city.
East 66th street became the center of action for Pope enthusiasts hoping to catch him without tickets to any of his events. Francis has been lauded as a notably accessible Pope, and the crowds gathering in this area to see the Pope apart from his schedule visits are proof of this. The Pope passed by once on Thursday and at least twice on Friday to the delight of many, and to the chagrin of few, of those living and working in the area.
The Pope’s route on 66th street made for very convenient, if not casual, Pope encounters. “I didn’t have to travel” said Emily Diaz, 25, a student from Queens, who attends Hunter College a few blocks away. Others in the crowd echoed this sentiment: “I live on 69th and I happened to find the Pope. I can’t cross so I figured I’d wait. I’m excited!” said Hailey Petrini, 24.
Some who work in the area knew that their best bet to see the Pope was during their work commute, knowing that he would be nearby. Elsa Morales, 37, who is originally from Paraguay, works two blocks away: “he’s from Argentina. He’s my neighbor!” A doorman at a building on 65th and Fifth Avenue Jerry O’Sullivan, 45, had the added bonus of seeing the Pope while on the job just outside his building: “I saw him twice last night. He was right outside my door!”
While many out-of-towners congregated in the much publicized areas around St. Patrick’s, Madison Square Garden or Central Park, some people around 66th street still traveled far. Rita Bruno, 59, is a self-proclaimed Pope fan from Brazil who travelled into Manhattan from Brooklyn. Bruno visited the Vatican in Rome and didn’t get a chance to see the Pope, “but today I get to see him very, very close.”
But not all New Yorkers shared the sense of excitement for the Pope’s visit. “You know how New Yorkers are, they don’t want to be inconvenienced one bit,” says Keith Morse, 45, a police officer working on 66th street. “Half of the people here are upset that they’re inconvenienced.”
Overall, the anticipation and thrill was palpable as the crowd waited for the Pope, and many felt drawn to his message as a leader. “I’m personally very excited. I think he’s fantastic,” says Olivia Titus, 20, a student in New York originally from Boston.“This Pope is new age, and he seems to be cool with everything.”
Damir Djokanovich, 24, from Queens, another police officer patrolling 66th stret admires the Pope for reaching out to the poor. “I like his mission. His whole goal is helping the poor. It doesn’t matter what you’re worth, everyone is equal to him so that’s awesome.” As far as the security threat and transportation operations that called for an all-hands on deck showing from New York’s finest, Djokanovich says: “I’ve been standing since 2:30 in the morning. It’s 22 hours overtime on my day off.” Djokanovich was lucky enough to score a front row seat as an officer, but would be here trying to see the Pope if he wasn’t working and if it wasn’t so convenient? “Probably not. I’d be playing tennis,” he said with a smile.