I saw the Pope. Yes, THAT Pope.
On Friday, I lined up with tens of thousands of people to catch a glimpse of the leader of the free world as he rode through Central Park. (And I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout POTUS.) It went down thusly:
The Pope’s motorcade was set to begin at 5 PM, but there was a massive amount of security, so check-in began at 11 AM. I arrived a little after noon. The weather was perfect—thankfully cool and breezy, as I was going to be standing in a tightly packed crowd for the next five hours or so.
(That reminds me: if you expect photos of the event in this article, you can expect again. It’s all about that TEXT, baby—that’s how we roll at Catholic Culture. Anyway, by the end of this you’ll understand why I don’t take pictures.)
Standing in a wide, slow-moving line which snaked up and down the street (Central Park West from 66th to 59th) before entering the park itself, I had plenty of time not only to get some reading done but to observe my fellow devotees. I was surprised there weren’t more my age; those surrounding me, at least, were mostly middle-aged and older. Once we got into the park and could move around at relative liberty, though, I saw more of my alleged demographic: the dread millennial.
The most interesting, if depressing, thing I saw was a young boy in line telling an older woman (not his mother, I gathered) about a kid who was bullying him in school. The woman didn’t look up from her phone during the entire exchange. Still, those of us who overheard the kid took great pleasure in hearing his account of how he finally threw a punch after the bully insulted his mother. Little did he know that he was following the Pontiff’s example.
There was also a girl who was wearing a mitre made of folded newspaper. Clearly, this aspiring anti-Pope was attempting to beat Francis at his own eco-friendly game.
I went to the event alone, but when I made it into the park a little after three I ran into a couple of acquaintances. Trying to make it closer to the barrier, my friends sidled past a middle-aged couple. When I tried to follow, there was a beautiful demonstration of the unity of man and wife when they linked arms and blocked my way. According to the spirit of Vatican II, a dialogue ensued:
Man: That’s IT! No more! No more people!
Me: I’m with them, though.
Man: Well, you aren’t with them anymore. We’ve been standing here for four hours!
Me: I can see you’ve carefully studied Jesus’ parable about the workers who came later in the day but got paid the same amount.
Man: [stares blankly for a moment, then gets my number] Oh, you mean “The first will be last and the last will be first”—you’re gonna pull that one?
Me: Different one, but same principle. [to friends] Hey, the self-appointed gatekeepers aren’t gonna let me through…
Man [accusingly]: Do you want to stand on our feet?! Do you want to stand on their blanket?! There’s no room! [There was plenty of room.]
There were still a couple of hours to kill before the Pope swung by, so I stood and listened to a sarcastic child repeatedly tell his mother how excited he was “to be at the Trump rally.” I whiled away the rest of the time explaining the Silmarillion to a beautiful French girl. (Yeah, I know you’re going to tell me what a terrible move that is, but in my defense, she asked about it.)
Every time the crowd thought Francis was coming, they lifted their smartphones and gigantic tablets above their heads. I could tell I was going to have to struggle to see him when he actually arrived. At one point I looked through a tablet that was looking through a tablet that was looking through another tablet. It was was like some high-concept work of performance art. And like most high-concept works of performance art, it made me want to punch someone in the face.
(A friend of mine told me about some news coverage he saw of Francis’s arrival at the White House. The Holy Father started walking towards a boy. The boy immediately looked down and started fishing around for his phone. Then he was looking at his phone to get ready to take a picture. The Pope got to the boy, laid his hand on his head, and moved on. The boy finally looked up from his phone and started looking around trying to figure out where the Pope had gone.)
When the Pope finally arrived, it was totally awesome and I totally managed to get a very brief glimpse of his face as it passed between two upraised tablets. (Where are camera-smashing cops when you need them?) People were mostly going “WOOOOOO” but a friend had asked me to say hello to the Pope for him, so I screamed “MARK SAYS HELLO!”
It was a beautiful experience. I regret nothing.
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Posted by: Perkiset -
Feb. 29, 2016 8:41 AM ET USA
Thank you for this article.
Posted by: Bernadette -
Feb. 27, 2016 4:16 PM ET USA
Excellent! What more can be said? A fixed standard is a must. Truth. And what is or Who is that? That is our quest, our mission, our reason for being. To search and discover truth/Truth. With relativism, the search cannot even begin. We are handcuffed, blindfolded, muffled, prisoners. There is no escape toward true enlightenment.
Posted by: nix898049 -
Oct. 01, 2015 11:04 AM ET USA
I too was amazed when watching the pope leave the Vatican Embassy and greet a crowd of children standing in the hedge opposite the door. They all witnessed the encounter thru a cellphone. As if an event viewed on a screen is somehow more real (or interesting) than what they see with their own eyes. I had a thought that someday soon if the Holy Virgin should appear to one of them they wouldn't look at her either. How sad.
Posted by: koinonia -
Sep. 28, 2015 7:02 PM ET USA
Good for you. With regard to the married couple, you might have tried the old adage: "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." The spirit of Vatican II is nothing if not a facilitator of the unlikely. Thanks for the candid account. Thanks for being there. Keep the faith.