In this reflection on “The Journey” Fr. Patrick Griffin continues his series of reflections “Considering Consecrated Life”
Some may wonder what it was like in NY during the visit of Pope Francis. Let me offer one man’s experience . . . not of the privilege of being present at two events (as extraordinary as that was) but from the perspective of the journey.
Because I am responsible for the Center at St. John’s University which provides expert faculty consulters for the Holy See Mission to the UN, I received a ticket for Francis’ presentation to that Assembly. Due to all the security measures involved, I needed to be on my way to the UN by 5:00 in the morning by public transportation. (Everyone was wisely encouraged to use buses and trains for these days.) I got to the UN, entered with a modest delegation from SJU, waited three hours, and heard His Holiness speak. Before he spoke, I talked with the people around me. On my right sat a lawyer from Mississippi who came for this event when offered a ticket. In front of me was the niece of Archbishop Auza (the Holy See delegate to the UN). She had arrived from California. The young woman who acted as usher was from Portugal and had just taken up her duties in the past month. She spoke Portuguese, Spanish, French and English. Pleasant and interesting conversation made the time no burden.
From the UN, I walked to Madison Square Garden (MSG) where the Papal Mass was to be celebrated. On the way, I made a detour to St. Patrick’s Cathedral to see what it looked like with all its renovation. I had seen it on TV on the night before when the Holy Father celebrated Vespers there, but not in person.
I arrived at MSG at 1:30. Those with tickets were expected to be allowed entrance through the security area at 2:00. Everyone had to be in their seats by 5:30 for the 6:30 mass. I expected a line and was not disappointed. The only entrance was at 32nd Street and 7th Avenue. The line finished there. I started walking to find its starting point. I traveled all the way to 23rd Street, still tracking the group heading in the other direction, and thought that I had arrived at the beginning. No such luck. The line turned right on 23rd Street and went to 8th Avenue where it turned right again and continued back towards the Garden. Finally, at 26th Street and 8th Avenue, I found the beginning. I was surprised at the length of this crowd of people, but not half as astonished as I became as I watched people for the next two hours pass me as they went on their way to the beginning of the column.
I was on that line for three hours, moving at a snail’s pace heading back to the entrance to MSG. Here is the interesting part: it was not painful. The day was beautiful and the people all around me were in good spirits because they—by connections or, more often, by lottery—had gotten tickets to see the Pope. I talked to dozens of people from here, there, and everywhere about the Pope, the Church, priesthood, and all kinds of other topics. Two women offered me sunscreen; another put a tangerine in my hand; a mature woman walked hand-in-hand with her 82 year old mother. (I kept insisting that this last pair was trying to push ahead of me.) Those waiting patiently with me were Catholic in every sense of the word. I had no reason to think that my little “community” was any different than the hundreds of others that formed along that procession.
Every now and then a group of priests hurried by. Yes, “jumping the line!” My “parish” urged me to join them. Loyalty as much as pride kept me in place.
When we got to 26th Street and 7th Avenue—still six blocks from our destination—it was almost 5:00. The police, who were unfailingly polite and cheerful, kept assuring us that we would get in and that security was taking a little longer than planned. (No kidding!) At this point, looking up 26th Street, I could see how the line snaked down the block toward us in the street and then turned to go up the same block on the sidewalk. That was the same line in which I stood, and still not the end.
I will stop the account here. Suffice it to say that I, and those around me, and thousands of others did get in for the mass. I think that it would be safe to note that the security was still present at the entrance but had become less intense. I could tell lots of human stories.
The privilege of seeing the Holy Father was wondrous, but the “journey” was also a very positive value. New York, and not only Catholic New York, rejoiced in his being among us and made extraordinary efforts to see him. Much of that effort consisted in remaining still and waiting with people of good will. That experience proved as uplifting as his actual presence.