c. 2008 Religion News Service
NEW YORK _ Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue was awash in sunlight and song on Saturday (April 19) as Pope Benedict XVI, ensconced behind the bulletproof windows of his popemobile, waved to tens of thousands of onlookers.
The throng along the sidewalks was at least 10 deep; the police helicopters overhead, six deep.
For 22 blocks, from St. Patrick’s Cathedral to the residence of the Vatican’s representative to the United Nations, the crowd, squeezed behind police barricades for hours, craned for a brief view of the pontiff.
How tight was security?
“We’ve never had this, not even for the president,” said Sgt. George Rodriguez.
But neither the overwhelming police presence _ NYPD locked down each block before the popemobile inched its way up the avenue _ nor the suffocating immobility seemed to dampen the spirits of those along the route.
“I love you!” shouted several people at the 56th Street crossing as the popemobile passed by the Prada store around 1:30 p.m., surrounded by a dozen Secret Service agents on foot.
“Be-ne-det-to, Be-ne-det-to!” chanted a group of Italians.
Benedict turned to the well-wishers and waved, and the crowd’s shouts crescendoed.
Many of the cheers, however, were muffled, by the thump-thump-thump of the helicopter rotors overhead.
Even the two dozen New York City police officers stationed at each corner, turned their eyes skyward at the thundering sound.
For elderly identical twins Jane and Doris Smith, lifelong residents of Jersey City, N.J., the 10-second view of the pontiff was worth the three-hour wait.
“He’s a special man,” said Doris Smith. “He doesn’t want to be compared to John Paul. John Paul was more dramatic, kissing the ground, but Benedict is good and kind. He’s our kind of guy.“
Before the papal procession, the parade route was rocking and rolling.
Several groups of Hispanic musicians played for the assembled onlookers. One group of men and women played guitars, bongos and tambourines, singing “Go to Galilee” in Spanish.
A few other onlookers carried German flags draped like capes over their shoulders. One of them also carried a sign in the pope’s native language, saying simply, “Willkommen.”
Joe and Ruth Dion came all the way from Vancouver, Canada, to see the pope and to celebrate Joe’s 60th birthday on Saturday. Ruth Dion is Baptist and Joe Dion, a former Catholic, converted to the Baptist faith after the couple met almost 20 years ago.
“The pope’s not only talking about Catholics,” said Ruth Dion, “but everyone, all the believers in Christ.“
“I pray to the pope every morning,” said Joe, who is part Cree Indian. “I pray that his influence will continue to transcend, that more people will come to Christ.”
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The sentiment was not universal, however, as small knots of protesters tried to make clear to whoever would listen.
Tim Schultheis of Keansburg, N.J., stood behind a sign hanging from the police fence that read, “Repent or Perish. You evil men seek only rebellion: So a cruel messenger shall be sent against you.”
“We believe in Christ,” said Schultheis, 46, who was wearing a green T-shirt with the words “Trust in Jesus” in white block letters on the front.
“We don’t believe in the pope. The Bible says there is only one mediator between man and God, and that’s Jesus Christ,” he said.
Schultheis was not standing along the popemobile route merely to protest the pontiff’s presence. “This is a great opportunity to reach souls,” he said.
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For Joe Dion, the pope’s visit to the United States was a different kind of opportunity.
“It’s a great time to be Christian, to know God,” he said. “Times are getting tough, and the world needs help. People will have to come back to God.”
(Amy Ellis Nutt writes for The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J.)
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