Mott Haven faithful eager for first real-life glimpse of Pope Francis
Wilfredo Vandespool is 76 years old, but when he heard his number called, he sprinted toward the altar of St. Anselm’s Church on Tinton Avenue with the vigor of a teenager. The packed crowd that surrounded him at the Spanish-language Mass burst into thunderous applause. Vandespool clutched the coupon in his hand, realizing he had just reached a new milestone in his life. He was going to see the pope.
“I’m so happy. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for six months,” Vandespool said.
Sunday the church gave away 35 golden lottery tickets for the pope’s Mass in Madison Square Garden on Friday.
The mood was celebratory. Organ music and the high notes of operatic singers soared to the domed ceiling of St. Anselm’s, reverberating through its richly frescoed interiors and stained glass windows.
While Manhattan will get all the attention this week, the South Bronx promises to buzz with activity too. At St. Anselm’s, there will be rosaries, meetings and screenings of the pope’s visit for parishioners unable to travel to Manhattan.
A visit to St Anselm’s and other Catholic churches in Mott Haven showed how the excitement over Pope Francis’s visit to New York City is spreading through the neighborhood.
At St. Rita of Cascia Parish on College Avenue, a painted image of the Virgin Mary welcomes parishioners. Here, the pope’s visit has brought hope to Catholics, whose numbers have been decreasing.
”He is trying to bring the young generations back,” said Soto Aoreo, the sacristan at the church, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1951. “And that is what we need: that they come to the church, to pray more, to understand each other, and in that way we do not have so much crime.”
At the other end of Mott Haven, the bells of St. Jerome’s Church on Alexander Avenue tolled to mark the end of the 10:30 a.m. Mass. Dalys Carranza, 59, emerged from the church. Like many others she had signed up online to get tickets for Friday’s papal motorcade in Central Park, where the pope will meet and greet New Yorkers. Three days ago she received an email awarding her two tickets. But that has put her in a dilemma.
“I have to choose someone to go with me, because I have two tickets,” Carranza said. “But there are too many people who want to go, so I don’t know who to pick. I guess I will have to do a raffle or something.”
Carranza works as a house cleaner, but her boss has given her Friday off to see the pope. She wants to be at Central Park at 11 to be one of the first in line. For her, Pope Francis is more than a religious leader.
“I feel that he is the chosen one from God. He has a special gift and he wants to share it with us,” Carranza said. “It is going to be exciting to meet him and get a blessing, because I know it will be a blessing for everybody.”
Demand for the motorcade tickets has been so great that they are no longer available, according to nyc.gov. One of the parishioners who did not get a ticket was Olimpia Veldazquez, 75, who works as a volunteer at St. Jerome.
“If I had the tickets I would pray and say, ‘Thank you God, thank you!’ Because I really want to go,” she said. Asked what she wanted to say to the pope if she had the chance to meet him, tears came to her eyes. “I don’t know. It would be too much for me. Maybe I would be quiet, maybe I would cry, maybe I would hug him. I don’t know.”
Antonio Palacios, pastor at St. Anselm’s, gets to actually meet the pope at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
“We will ask for graces to be given to the churches that have been closed,” said the pastor, expressing his deepest concerns about 60 churches – including St. Roch in Mott Haven – that have been shut down in the archdiocese’s reorganization plan.
“We will ask the pope if it’s possible to help these churches because there are many families suffering,” he said. “People who are old, who have been a part of their church for 40 to 50 years, find that their church is closed. It is painful for them.”
The pope arrives on Thursday and leaves New York City for Philadelphia on Saturday morning.