NEW YORK —
Pope Francis is headed to Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. There, across from Rockefeller Center and New York City's famous shopping district, stands St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where the pontiff will hold an evening prayer service shortly after arriving Thursday evening.
The United States' largest neo-Gothic-style Roman Catholic catedral remains one of the city's top tourist destinations, drawing 5 million visitors a year. Completed in 1879 after 21 years of construction, it stands 100 meters above the street, seats 2,400 and features more than 2,800 stained glass panels.
Tourists from near and far marvel at its intricacies and magnitude.
"For the Catholic Church, it’s one of the most precious churches in the United States of America,” said William Eggels, visiting from the Netherlands.
Another first-time visitor to the cathedral, Angela Paul of New York, called the structure "soothing and magical."
Its central location in the city adds to the effect, Paul said.
"There’s so much going on outside, but it’s just so, so, so quiet inside and so breathtaking that you forget really where you are," she explained. "And then you come outside, and it’s like, ‘Whoa, I’m in New York!'"
$175 million makeover
The pope's visit comes after a three-year makeover of the cathedral, estimated at $175 million.
Kate Monaghan, a spokeswoman for the cathedral and its restoration campaign, said the church is ready to receive Francis after many months of detailed security and logistical planning.
"You go through every step the pope will take, from when he gets out of the 'popemobile' and steps out onto Fifth Avenue, walks up the stairs," Monaghan explained. "Every, you know, spot that he walks through, we know exactly."
Monaghan said the remaining scaffolding would be removed before his arrival.
Francis will be the fourth Catholic leader to visit St. Patrick's, making it the the most-visited cathedral outside of Italy to be visited by a pope.