Today I diverge a little from my usual topic of creativity to record my thoughts on seeing Pope Francis in Central Park yesterday. Yet his message of mercy and compassion should soothe our souls and help us tap into the creative spirit within us.
I did not expect the lines. I should have, I know. I went to the 5th Avenue Papal Procession of Friday, so I should have expected Saturday’s lines to be so much longer. For some reason, I didn’t. For three hours we wound our way up Central Park West from 61st St to 66th and back again to 59th. That is where the Papal Procession Experience really began. Or actually, it began when Kelly and I turned onto 61st St. from Broadway. In a jolly moment of mimicking a mother or teacher giving a child a ticket, I handed Kelly hers and said, “Here’s your ticket. Don’t lose it.” The woman ahead of me laughed and said the same to her friend and looked at me. We both laughed then. And so began a new friendship. The four of us stayed together for the whole day talking and laughing.
Though there were approximately 80 thousand devotees in the park yesterday and the lines to get through security were long and slow, the atmosphere was largely energized and welcoming. People introduced themselves to those around them. I sat down as soon as we reached the grassy area where people where amassing by the side of the path. We were about five of six rows back; most of those in front of us were standing, but I sat down. We still had three or four hours to go before he would arrive and had already been on our feet on line for three hours; I wanted to sit for a while. I would stand when he was on his way. A group of six or seven people sat down next to me. One man immediately introduced himself saying, “we’re going to be here a while, we might as well say hello.” Such began a conversation with them that revealed amazing coincidences, such as two of the women sitting next to me had been taught music in high school by the nun who is currently the principal of the school where I teach. Other people started out gruff, expecting the Pope’s arrival more immediately perhaps and used to running the show, but they too soon calmed into the inclusive, relaxed attitude surrounding them. More people sat down and joined the conversation. There were people of all ages, races, and backgrounds, and even religions.
A friend who did not have a ticket to the park watched the Pope’s day unfold on TV and provided me with a play-by-play via text. The people in my section were eager to hear the next update from our Pope-tracker.
Shortly before the Pope processed through Central Park, a rainbow appeared in the sky. It was warm, sunny, bright day, and then this added touch of beauty emerged.
Then of courses there was the Pope as he was driven through the park on the Pope-mobile. Though he was in the latter half of a long busy day and in the middle of a long, busy trip, he still smiled and waved and exuded a feeling of serenity.
It was a beautiful moment of 80 thousand people corralled into a park, sitting or standing on top of one another, wanting the best view, wanting to get that picture, and though they were admitted to the park through various entrances over the course of six hours, everyone turned to leave at the same time. I felt no one pushing his/her way out. We moved steadily, but people were still smiling. Even the Central Park Conservancy workers still had smiles on their faces as they held the gates open for the mass exodus. The “main event’ lasted approximately 30 seconds as the Pope went by in the Pope-mobile, yet not one person near me said, “That was it?” No, everyone said something to the effect of “that was wonderful” or “he is great” or “I feel changed.” Yes, when seeing the Pope go by for those 30 or so seconds you have waited three to six hours for, you feel special; you feel honored, you feel touched by the spirit, but for me at least, the true beauty of the day came in the form of camaraderie with the people around you.