On Friday, 80,000 New Yorkers, after waiting for hours to clear security, piled into a small section of Central Park and lined up in rows to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis, who was heading from Our Lady of Angels in Harlem to Madison Square Garden where he would say mass before leaving the city Saturday morning.

On the surrounding streets the pedestrian traffic moved at a glacial pace. Vendors stood beside the regular hot dog and Halal food carts selling I Heart Pope Francis t-shirts and buttons, and others walked the perimeter of the line to get into the park selling yellow and white Holy See flags—only one size of which, it turned out, were allowed through security (those who purchased the larger flags with 1.5 foot wooden sticks for handles would have to discard them).

The crowd was diverse. A lot of Spanish was being spoken, and Italian too. There were Latin@s, Filipin@s, Blacks, Whites, young, old, able-bodied, in wheelchairs, children, elderly. The NYC ambassadors helping direct the lines toward security checkpoints were sporting t-shirts advertising Mayor De Blasio’s Universal pre-K program.

People came ready to be patient. Part of the appeal of standing in the line that snaked through 13 blocks of Central Park West, and funneled in through three bottleneck entrances along the west side of the park, was knowing how amazing the pictures would look from above. Having been through Catholic school, this kind of public display of unity felt comfortable to me, and it seemed to others as well. I began to notice we were all behaving like Catholic school children. Regardless of whether we understand all of the details and implications of what it truly meant, there we all were, standing. Bumping into each other became a sort of sign of peace—“excuse me"--“oh no, you’re fine.”

The secret service, which has an office in Brooklyn, worked with NYPD to prepare the park for the pope’s 20 minute driveby. Two “anti climb” fences were put up earlier in the week.

By some miracle of logistics, all ticket holders were able to enter the park. Each of us had our bags thoroughly searched, walked through a metal detector, and was patted down by a gender-assigned TSA officer. Then you were let free, without further instruction from any more uniformed officials, to find a place to stand and wait to see Pope Francis.

Away from the rows of people lining Park Drive, children ran and played with each other in a dirt patch next to port-a-potties, before the perimeter of policemen. There was a game of something like touch football going on, and some families brought picnic blankets. The excitement was incredible, and not anxious. We all felt considerably safe, having just been through the same security clearance as everyone else. And united in something.

By the time we arrived, around 4pm, most of the ground had already been claimed (especially the hills), by people who had been waiting longer--some as early as dawn. Those folks were lying on their backs, staring at the sky. Those who were awake were hyper. Any movement from the street that caught a reaction from someone was picked up and echoed by the crowd. Someone squealed up at the sky, yelling “rainbow, look there’s a rainbow!” Waves of gasps and flurries of hands and iPhones responded. There was in fact a rainbow. At another point, when you could almost feel the pope coming, a baby tree was dismembered, because it was blocking someone’s view.

When NYPD motorcycles did a pre-pope ride through the route, people were chanting Francisco amigo, el pueblo está contigo: “Francis, friend, the people are with you.” Cries of “papa!” began too. After two false alarms of morotcycles doing perimeters around the park, you then could hear the difference in the cheers upstream—the pope was here, and as he passed, everyone erupted into cheers, people jumped, trying to keep a steady hand on their cameras. Others took off running alongside the motorcade until the security barriers stopped them. People wept and hugged each other. Couples kissed. And then we all made our way out of the park.

Earlier that day a woman on the subway told me that “when the pope’s in town, something is in the air. People are nicer to each other.” We had begun this conversation because we both couldn’t hear a muffled MTA announcement. “He really connects with people,” she continued, “and I like that he tells the rich that if they keep doing what they’re doing they’re not going to get into heaven.” She laughed. “He really loves the poor, and look” – she leaned close to me and with her eyebrows raised said in a low voice “there’s more of us than there are of them.” I laughed, and began to stand “Sweetie,” she grabbed my hand, “if this is your stop you have a real blessed day.”

During his time in New York, the pope repeatedly thanked the everyday workers, the people who make the day to day operations of the city happen. And he thanked them for all the hard work they did preparing for his visit. He wants us to take note of this too.

 “The procession through Central Park will give thousands of New Yorkers an opportunity to come face to face with Pope Francis,” Mayor DeBlasio said when he announced on Sepember 1 that there would be a raffle, open to the general public, for tickets to the see the pope. ”We’re proud to welcome one of the world’s most powerful voices to our great city this month.”

Friends of mine who’ve lived in New York decades longer than I have compare the feeling of unity present during the pope's visit with 9/11. But that was uniting in mourning. This was uniting in celebration of the pope’s message, and in the hope that his vision of the world can be realized.

He showed the church itself. By his actions he became something more than just a symbol of Catholic identity, or an arcane spectacle that calls to mind strict adherence to a pious way of living. What astonished me most was not that he was His Holiness but that he was a person. The pope truly seemed to be energized by us. And it was reciprocated.

Part of Francis’s message to us is that within every single person we encounter something that tells us about God. He encouraged New Yorkers to lean into impulses otherwise unnatural to us—the impulse to smile, say hello to people, be welcome to those around, step aside kindly, and share the space of this city. As he said in his homily at Madison Square Garden:

Knowing that Jesus still walks our streets, that he is part of the lives of his people, that he is involved with us in one vast history of salvation, fills us with hope. A hope which liberates us from the forces pushing us to isolation and lack of concern for the lives of others, for the life of our city. A hope which frees us from empty “connections”, from abstract analyses, or sensationalist routines. A hope which is unafraid of involvement, which acts as a leaven wherever we happen to live and work. A hope which makes us see, even in the midst of smog, the presence of God as he continues to walk the streets of our city.

Because not only does everyone has a right to be on these streets, but everyone—he reminded Catholics of what they profess to believe—is a child of God.

The God Francis talks about in that homily is a liberating God, a quiet, daily God, a God who loves the poor, the stranger, the physically suffering, and the politically marginalized. New Yorkers encounter people like this every day. The pope presented this as both something to be challenged by, but more importantly something to celebrated.

Francis called the church “yeast in the dough” of the life of the city, and he seems to intend the bread baked will be broken and shared. (Or, he is alluding to pizza crust. You pick.) I’m hopeful that his message has reached enough of us for it to be embodied.

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