Pastors Prep for Pope Francis

Clergy in Washington, New York and Philadelphia are ready for their shepherd’s arrival.

This banner will be hung in New York City's Holy Family Church, which is located adjacent to the United Nations, in honor of Pope Francis's visit.
This banner will be hung in New York City's Holy Family Church, which is located adjacent to the United Nations, in honor of Pope Francis's visit. (photo:

Pastors in the three major cities that the Holy Father will visit have spent much time preparing their parishioners for the event. Gracious welcomes for visitors have also been under way.


Walking With Francis

In Washington, at Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Church ( on Capitol Hill, Msgr. Charles Pope, the pastor and a Register blogger, said the church is sending some of the parish’s children and young adults to meet the Pope when he arrives on Sept. 23 at Joint Base Andrews. They will also be there when he departs Andrews for New York on Sept 24.

During the summer, Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian’s began preparations for parishioners using a Bible study dedicated to the papacy.

“We did a four-week session on all the texts in the Bible that refer to Peter and the office of the papacy,” Msgr. Pope explained. About 100 people showed up at each session, which examined all of the relevant texts in the Gospels and those in “the Acts of the Apostles where Peter was showing his leadership,” he said.

The parish is also involved in the archdiocese’s spiritual bouquet called “A Walk With Francis.” Parishioners have been indicating one of three choices they will pledge:

“They will either pray certain sacred prayers or acts of faith, or perform some work of mercy or charity, or do some acts of faith where we stand up for our faith in the public arena, like speaking out for life and family issues,” Msgr. Pope explained.


All Around New York

On the West Side of New York City, where Pope Francis will arrive Sept. 24, the Church of St. Michael on 34th Street ( has been preparing for the Pope’s visit with a novena of prayers for the intentions of the Holy Father. The parishioners have also received recommended “links” to helpful background stories to familiarize them with details related to the Pope’s trip.

“Since there is limited access to vespers at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on the 24th, there will be a vigil here at St. Michael’s for young adults from around the city, with adoration and meditations and music,” author and frequent EWTN host Father George Rutler, the pastor of St. Michael’s, told the Register. More than 800 faithful are expected.

“Parishes are allotted a very small number of tickets, so most of the parishioners will not be able to attend the Mass at Madison Square Garden, which is just to the east of our church, but it will be televised,” Father Rutler added.

He pointed out that many New Yorkers will stay inside or leave the city, in anticipation of traffic chaos. In addition to Francis, 200 world leaders, including Vladimir Putin of Russia and Xi Jinping of China, will be in the city for the annual United Nations’ General Assembly.

“The most important preparation will be to pray for the spiritual strength of the Holy Father,” concluded Father Rutler, “that he may be guided to speak on the central doctrinal issues of faith and morals challenging our society in ways that will not be exploited for the political ends of special-interest groups, and that his careful and declarative words will be expressed in ways that cannot be twisted by the media.”


Close to U.N.

On New York City’s East Side, Holy Family Catholic Church on 47th Street (, practically across the street from the United Nations, is no stranger to papal visits.

Nearly to the day is the 50th anniversary of Blessed Pope Paul VI’s holding a meeting in this church, during his visit to New York City. It was the first visit a reigning pontiff made to a parish church in the Western Hemisphere.

Father Gerald Murray, the pastor, mentioned that weekday “parishioners” are largely people who work at the United Nations, while Sunday’s neighborhood people are parishioners. The parish is readying for Francis’ visit, too.

“We have our CCD children organized,” Father Murray said. “About 60 of them are going to be out on the sidewalks across the street from the U.N. when he arrives Friday morning.” They will be specially decked out to greet the Pope: The parish had a contest to design a t-shirt, with the children doing all the drawing. All the kids will be wearing the T-shirts bearing the winning design. They’ll also wear baseball caps and be waving papal flags. A big banner made by the children will proclaim: “Holy Family CCD Welcomes Pope Francis.”

“The children are also learning the song Ode to Joy in Spanish,” Father Murray noted. Naturally, they’ll sing it when the Holy Father arrives. While he’s addressing the U.N., the children will have breakfast at the church, but “when he leaves the U.N, they will go back on the sidewalk and wave good-bye.”

Holy Family Church is also hosting Relevant Radio’s Morning Air with John Harper “in a live broadcast with us from the sidewalk, with the kids, parents and teachers,” Father Murray said.

Some parishioners will get to attend the papal Mass at Madison Square Garden that evening.

Father Murray himself will have a ringside seat. He was a commentator with Raymond Arroyo during EWTN’s 2013 papal-conclave coverage, and he will again be doing TV commentary with Arroyo on EWTN in Washington and New York, and possibly Philadelphia, too.

A visit by Pope Francis to Holy Family Church could not be put on the papal schedule, but as Father Murray explained, “The U.N. building falls within our parish boundaries. This is the fourth pope who will visit within the parish territory. That is a unique blessing for our neighborhood.”


City of Brotherly Love

In Philadelphia, where Francis will be Sept. 26-27 for the conclusion of World Meeting of Families, St. John the Evangelist Church ( is expecting scores of visitors because it is close to the conference center.

“We are encouraging our parishioners to attend the World Meeting of Families and encouraging them to attend the papal Mass,” said Capuchin Father John Daya, the pastor. The effort was reinforced by Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput asking pastors to highlight the family event and encourage parishioners to support it.

In the parish’s daily Masses, “we insert in our petitions prayers not only for Pope Francis’ safe travel, but also that his visit will touch the hearts of the people of Philadelphia and renew the city of Philadelphia with his preaching and teaching,” Father Daya said.

His church is preparing to help visitors in some specific ways. “St. John’s is providing a great deal of hospitality for bishops and their pilgrims from the United States and even internationally,” Father Daya explained.

“Being so close to the convention center, we have 10 bishops from the United States requesting to celebrate Mass here with their pilgrims.” Six bishops will celebrate Mass on Sept. 25, and seven bishops with say Mass in the presence of their pilgrims the following day. Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, archbishop of Paris, will also celebrate Mass at St. John’s.

In addition, on the evening of Sept. 24, the world premiere of the oratorio Wedding Feast of the Lamb by Cormac O’Duffy is to take place at St. John’s. It examines the Bible’s view and teaching on marriage and the family, beginning with Genesis onward. Father Daya noted the work is approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and by Archbishops Chaput and Thomas Wenski of Miami. The relics of St. Maria Goretti will also be on display within the church for two days, as part of a traveling pilgrimage.

Naturally, parishioners will attend Pope Francis’ outdoor Mass nearby.

Father Daya counsels parishioners that they should “not miss out on the great historical event happening here in Philadelphia.”

Joseph Pronechen is the Register’s staff writer.

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