Pope Urges Compassion, Consideration, and Loving Treatment of the Poor During Day-Long Tour of NYC

Pope Francis in Central Park on Friday. (Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Pope Francis in Central Park on Friday. (Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

By motorcade and popemobile and simple shoe leather, in a daylong tour up and down Manhattan that found pockets of joy and pain, wealth and want, Pope Francis on Friday called for social justice and peace in addresses to world leaders and workaday New Yorkers alike. He ended with a stirring homily that was both an ode to the city and a reminder to watch for glimpses of the presence of God among the poorest of the poor.

“In big cities, beneath the roar of traffic, beneath the rapid pace of change, so many faces pass by unnoticed because they have no ‘right’ to be there, no right to be part of the city,” Francis said in a Mass before 20,000 at Madison Square Garden. “They are the foreigners, the children who go without schooling, those deprived of medical insurance, the homeless, the forgotten elderly. These people stand at the edges of our great avenues, in our streets, in deafening anonymity.”

That theme, that “God is living in our cities,” provided an apt conclusion to a day spent navigating New York’s complicated fabric of rich and struggling. It was the pope’s first visit to the city, where the longtime hum of the machines of commerce and prosperity has brought the very excesses he has spent his papacy pushing against. It was impossible to ignore, behind the rows and rows of well-wishers who packed Central Park’s broad meadow, the soaring columns of skyscrapers with penthouses that are home to many of the world’s wealthiest people.

He spoke of that divide often during the day, from his first remarks before the United Nations General Assembly, where he called for respect for “those considered disposable because they are only considered as part of a statistic,” to his closing homily’s observation that “big cities also conceal the faces of all those people who don’t appear to belong, or are second-class citizens.”

Francis sought out some of those faces on a day of grand pageantry and small gestures that brought him before the relatives of fallen first responders at the footprints of the twin towers and, hours later, the upturned smiles of East Harlem schoolchildren not yet born the day those buildings were destroyed.

Perhaps the day’s greatest spectacle was his winding sweep through a swath of Central Park, a logistical feat that included screening tens of thousands of ticketholders, one bag at a time. The throngs roared their greetings to the “people’s pope,” using the name by which is he commonly known: “Viva Papa!”

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The New York Times