There’s more than usual going on in Midtown West, thanks to the papal mass at Madison Square Garden: Scroll down to find out about everything from bobble-head pope dolls to loaves and fishes to roadblocks and commuter strategies.
By Stassy Olmos and Cecile Borkhataria
Pope Francis has chosen Madison Square Garden as the site of a papal mass for his inaugural visit to the United States. The first Latin American pope of the Roman Catholic Church has arrived in New York, a city with more than three million Latin American residents, as part of a six-day visit that promises to change the Midtown West neighborhood dramatically for 36 hours.
Pope Francis is combining trips to Cuba and the U.S. during the 2015-2016 jubilee year of mercy, to highlight the Catholic Church’s mission. So far, he has declared Spanish missionary Junipero Serra a saint, the first saint to be canonized on U.S. soil, and addressed President Obama as well as Congress. On Thursday evening, he arrived at New York’s JFK airport and traveled to Manhattan to say evening prayers at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue. On Friday morning, he addresses the UN General Assembly and then heads to Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem. That evening, he appears in Madison Square Garden to say mass to about 20,000 people.
Pope Francis is well-known for his informal way of communicating, giving interviews not sanctioned by the Vatican. He even has a Twitter account — @Pontifex. As a Jesuit, he is the only pope in history to take a vow of poverty; he is respected for his commentary on social and political issues.
Previous popes had a different style of leadership. Pope John Paul II brought the Roman Catholic church into the public eye as a player in international politics, but his successor, Pope Benedict, had a very different style of papacy. According to Reverend John Wauck, a Vatican expert and on-air papal commentator for ABC, Pope Benedict was a professor and didn’t like addressing crowds.
The Midtown Gazette has the latest stories surrounding the Pope’s visit, from its effect on NYC business to a puppeteer who hopes to sneak into Madison Square Garden to meet the legendary religious figure.
By Sushma Udipi Nagendran
By Adam Kelsey
The Midtown Gazette went to Penn Station to find out how commuters plan to handle the Pope’s visit.
Jackie Walsh, who works at GTA Americas on 8th Avenue, isn’t going to risk it, and plans to work from home. “It’s going to be insane,” she said.
Walsh typically commutes on the Long Island Rail Road from her home in Bethpage, but has no interest in fighting crowds, either outside her office or below ground in Penn Station, which sits under Madison Square Garden.
Even those who live in Manhattan are hesitant to venture to the neighborhood. Jayron Larijani’s commute is a quick, crosstown subway ride from her home neighboring the United Nations Headquarters, where the General Assembly is in session, to an office near the Garden. She plans to work at home as well.
Across the street, Bryan Bradley said he would stay at home on Long Island. His company, Cisco Systems, always allows him to telecommute and he made sure to cancel meetings in advance. He said that while his building will be open, it will be a “ghost town.”
LIRR and New Jersey Transit have attempted to reassure commuters and their employers, promising that trains will run as close to schedule as possible. Additional off-peak service will run into the city as during the day as well, both to shuttle attendees to the 3 p.m. pre-event and 6 p.m. Mass, and to provide additional trains that will wait in the area to handle the horde heading outbound during rush hour and afterward.
That was good enough for Rusty Rickles, an accountant at Buchbinder in One Penn Plaza, which is connected to Penn Station. He called the day, “business as usual,” and was unconcerned about the prospect of catching his usual train home to New Jersey at 5:30 p.m.
Maria Cruz, who works in One Penn Plaza as well, had the same outlook. She said she felt comfortable after the Secret Service swept the building, and believes that the size of the crowd was being overestimated. Cruz also chalked up her confidence to experience.
“If I can handle the [2004 Republican National Convention], I can handle anything,” she said.
By James K. Williamson and Divya Kumar
Free meals: Shaun Clancy, owner of Foley’s, an Irish pub in Midtown Manhattan, hopes Pope Francis can autograph a baseball this weekend to add to the pub’s collection of 3,000 signed balls.
“I have baseballs signed from every facet of life,” said Clancy, who recently had one signed by Tommy Hilfiger. He just gave a ball to an acquaintance of his who is a member of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, where Pope Francis will visit on Friday. “He said he could see what he could do. I’m hoping, that’s all.”
Foley’s will have a special pope menu this weekend that includes pope pasta and Pontius potato skins. “I’m not necessarily religious,” Clancy said, standing in front of a photo of a baseball signed by Pope John II. “A friend took this picture. It’s the closest we’ve gotten to a ball signed by the Pope,” he said.
In the spirit of the pope’s visit, Clancy will donate 1,000 meals for the homeless to Saint Francis of Assisi Church next week. “I’m going to fill my truck with cases of pasta and canned vegetables,” he said.
More free meals: “We had to order food from different purveyors this week,” said Michael Ottley, director of operations at Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen located on the corner of 28th St. and 9th avenue. The program provides around 330,000 meals per year. “Because of the traffic, most won’t deliver,” he said. “The Pope wouldn’t want us to change anything. Homelessness, it’s big for the Pope. He’d be upset if we weren’t serving, wouldn’t he?”
And yet more free meals: The Church of St. Francis of Assisi on 31st Street will keep its daily breadline open tomorrow, though the church will shut its doors early due to security reasons. The Church serves 400 sandwiches to the homeless every morning at 7 a.m. Pope Francis, who takes his name after the same saint, has made homelessness and poverty a priority of his papacy.
New York City has seen some of the highest rates of homelessness since the Great Depression. Father Paul Lostritto, who runs the breadline program for the church, said he feels the issue has gotten even worse in the last year. According to the New York Coalition for the Homeless, 58,270 homeless people were in the shelter system as of July 2015, and an uncounted-for number on the streets. A day before the pope’s visit, the Archdiocese of New York announced it will offer 150 new shelter beds by winter.
By Laurence Bekk-Day, Wendy Lu and Christine Trudeau
Thousands of people are expected to crowd Madison Square Garden for the pope’s visit Friday — but shopkeepers see the pope’s visit as an annoyance rather than an opportunity for business.
Pink “NO PARKING” flyers have been affixed to every street light in the area. A customer strode into Park ‘N Lock on 227 W 30th Street, asking, “What’s going on with tomorrow?” The manager, Jose Kaines, deadpanned, “Nothing’s going on tomorrow: the pope will be there.”
The parking garage’s 31st Street entrance closes at midnight Thursday and remains closed until the pope’s departure, but the 30st Street side remains open. Kaines expects no extra influx of cars: all 22 employees will be on deck as usual.
Paul Vellios, 61, the owner of Café 31 on 220 W 31st Street, says he drives to work daily and expects to leave two hours earlier than usual on Friday. He plans to have his staff come early as well, as the restaurant will be open for its normal hours.
“How am I going to get my people here if it’s all blocked off?” said Vellios.
For Mahmoud Selin, 45, who runs a Halal food cart a block from Madison Square Garden, the pope’s visit will most likely mean one less day of business.
Selin, who grew up in Egypt and moved to New York at 21 years old, said he will spend the day with his family if he is unable to run the food cart.
Shop vendors are provided with city permits that designate specific areas where they can set up. If Selin does not receive notice of a new destination, he won’t work on Friday.
“We can’t just go and stay anywhere we want,” he said. “Sometimes you move because the city tells you you have to move.”
Vendors aren’t the only ones who may have to close for the day. Fridays are the busiest days of the week for Lobster Craft, a seafood restaurant located on 1 Penn. Plaza, and store manager Gustavo Gonell, 25, said that the decision to close the restaurant will bring down weekly sales significantly.
On any given Friday, Lobster Craft has six employees working the kitchen and waiting on customers.
“It doesn’t make sense for me to be open what with security and all that,” said Gonell, 25, who lives in Queens. It takes him 35 minutes to commute to Manhattan each day.
Pope merchandise is now on display at shops. Outside of Gifts & Luggage, Camera and Computers, pope t-shirts are on display, misspelling included. Ray Persaud, who has been working at the souvenir shop for more than 15 years, is jaded: “the traffic will be congested,” he says, because of the pope and the UN events. “But I don’t expect an increase in sales,” he adds.
More than 60 people have bought pope-related souvenirs from the store since Wednesday, when they went on sale.
Overnight street vendors have also popped up, selling unlicensed pope merchandise. On 31st Street, a street vendor sells pope-stamped keychains and posters for two dollars each on a makeshift table adorned with Vatican flags. But his flagship article is a $5 “pope selfie stick.
The street vendor missed an important memo: Law enforcement officials have specifically banned selfie sticks during the papal motorcade.
By Assil Frayha
Demonic masks, business suits, glasses of champagne, and a “Welcome to Wall Street Francis,” banner is one New Yorker’s idea of greeting the pope.
Friday morning, Elliot Crown and a fellow performer will be in full costume at the The National September 11 Memorial and Museum where the Pope is scheduled to visit. “All these journalists from around the world are running after the pope trying to find stories about him,” Crown said. “We are going to give him a story by dressing up as those evil demonic characters that represent Wall Street.
Crown, 60, developed a passion for performing and moved to New York in his early 20s where he got engaged in theater and started using art to vocalize his opinions on political issues. In the past decade, Crown has participated in protests by dressing up in controversial costumes to get attention from the media. He plans on taking advantage of the pope’s visit and the media frenzy to revive the Occupy Wall Street movement.
“You can say anything in a picture,” said Crown.
By Emma Kazaryan
By Ariana Pyles
By Kathryn Thomson
In preparation for Pope Francis’ historic United States visit, the Secret Service credentialed 8,000 members of the media from around the world to cover his trip. Journalists seeking official press identifications had to provide detailed information verified by their employers, including their passport and social security numbers, by the July 31 deadline.
Despite the stringent accreditation process, many journalists were surprised to learn, upon arrival, that the passes gain entrance to fewer venues than initially anticipated. A general credential may help one past a police barricade along guarded streets such as Fifth Ave., but it does not provide access inside high-security locations such St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Madison Square Garden, where the Pope will give an evening prayer service Thursday and say mass on Friday.
Broadcast coverage from the larger, ticketed events that the Holy Father will preside over involves a press pool. This is thought to reduce the number of individuals inside of these sites for security purposes. Those with the general credentials for the Pope’s trip are able to access pool coverage.
Television news outlets such as CNN and Fox are expected to provide wall-to-wall coverage of the Pope’s visit to New York, likely drawing ratings numbers that will compete with their GOP debate record-breaking viewings. NBC’s Lester Holt will anchor Nightly News each night from the various cities the Pope visits.
The most sought-after Papal press credential is status as a “VAMP,” Vatican Accredited Media Personnel. Only 76 hand-selected journalists from the larger, global media companies received VAMP status for the Pope’s U.S. visit. VAMP badges provide direct access to the Pope onboard his airplane nicknamed Shepherd One, a name that plays off of the United States’ Presidential Air Force One.
By Jingnan Peng
By Nokuthula Manyathi