New York has been preparing to welcome Pope Francis for months. Tickets to both the Evening Vespers at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Central Park event are this month’s hottest tickets in town. TV networks have microscopically covered his arrival from the bag he carries to the car he rides around town in. We thought we would take a different view and go behind the scenes of those attending Evening Vespers at St. Patrick’s Cathedral Thursday evening.
The second floor of the Palace Hotel
If you were fortunate enough to get a ticket for Vespers, your check point was on Park Avenue and 51st Street. Black wire fencing and barricades were on either side, leaving guests a path to the metal detector and bag check. At every point, Secret Service, police and dogs were in view, as we made our way to the holding area – The Palace Hotel on Madison Avenue.
The Palace Hotel outdoor plaza and second floor were where attendee’s for Vespers gathered. Secret Service stood guard at the elevators and hallways. But the crowd of clergy from all over the world seemed not to notice. There were clergy from every order, in every kind of clerical clothing. Many in sandals, with loose bags hanging around their shoulders. Many in the garb of Franciscans and traditional collars. There were sisters from every order, some in full-habits and others in street clothing with only a cross around their neck identifying them.
By 3 pm, hundreds filed out of the hotel onto Maison Avenue, which was closed to traffic – forming a line that would run from the hotel heading east on 50th Street to Fifth Avenue. Chain-linked fences lined 50th Street along the length of a forlorn looking Saks Fifth Avenue. We could see hundreds of onlookers behind barriers, and on the viewing stand, directly across from the main entrance to the cathedral. Again, Secret Service and police with dogs lined the entire stretch of open street on the inside of the blockade.
Closed to traffic, 50th Street alongside Saks Fifth Avenue
50th Street and Fifth Avenue
Viewing stand opposite the main entrance to the cathedral
The front entrance doors to the cathedral remained closed, with white-gloved attendants standing guard. We entered the newly renovated cathedral through a side door on 51st Street, where there was an understandable gridlock of people pausing to admire and take pictures of the sparkling interior. Many of the construction workers who labored for months on the cathedral renovation were invited to greet the Pope from the steps near the main entrance.
Those who worked on the construction of the cathedral flanked either side of the main entrance to greet the Pope upon his arrival
As guests filled every aisle, moving toward their assigned row and seat, we could see flat-panel screens at every turn. The musicians were preparing to perform. One by one, clergy, dignitaries and the faithful poured in. The program launched into full gear with speakers, intercession readers and music. Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham sang “Laudate Pueri” from Vesperae Solennes de Confessore by Mozart, followed by the music of Bach and others. Many of the guests/clergy were from out-of-town and were eager to explore the cathedral. Finally the praying of the rosary would slowly bring everyone to their seats.
Musicians preparing to perform
Behind the alter, in front of Lady Chapel, a sea of people with cellphones in outstretched arms catching a glimpse of Pope Francis at the Pieta.
The flat-panel screens had a live shot of Fifth Avenue and the crowd of onlookers. Not long after we were told that the Pope’s helicopter touched down at Wall Street, a line of black SUV’s pulled up in front of the cathedral with Pope Francis emerging from his Fiat, right behind them. We watched as the Pope climbed onto the popemobile, slowly driving a small stretch of Fifth Avenue, waving to a cheering crowd that we could hear from inside the cathedral. The cathedral was quiet as we viewed the Pope being greeted by our Mayor, Governor, Senator and assorted dignitaries and friends of the church. Finally being ushered up the steps and through the main entrance by His Eminence, Timothy Cardinal Dolan and Reverent Monsignor Robert Ritchie (Rector), and the cathedral filled with music, applause and cheers.
Behind the main alter, in front of Lady Chapel
Making his way to the rear of the cathedral, where he donned his vestments, he stopped in front of the 10′ 5″ replica of The Pieta, next to Lady Chapel, and kissed a cross before proceeding through a sea of raised arms, holding cellphones and flickering cameras. Vespers began with His Holiness, Pope Francis.
Lady Chapel, behind the main altar
Behind the main altar, with a view of the replica Pieta
From behind the alter, view toward main entrance of the cathedral
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For more about Pope Francis’ New York visit, take a look at the various places you can see him. Next, read about Michelangelo’s Pieta in the St. Patrick’s cathedral.