NEW YORK - On his first day in New York City, Pope Francis delighted thousands who lined the street to get a glimpse of him.
The pope transferred from his motorcade to his bulletproof Popemobile to wave and bless the faithful along Fifth Avenue, a posh upscale neighborhood in Manhattan.
A group of Catholic schoolgirls from the Dominican Academy and St. George Academy won a contest at their school to stand along the route. They waited three hours before the pope drove right in front of them. Then he stopped, turned toward them and made the sign of the cross.
Stephanie Redman broke into tears.
"I've always loved every pope the Catholic Church has had, like Pope John Paul. I've always loved them and looked up to them. I have little cards of them in my room. To actually see him walk by is such a great experience," she said.
Olivia Lashishka squealed with delight as she hugged her classmates. "I feel like I was surrounded by family because we all have the same beliefs," she said. "He was blessing us. I feel really grateful."
High school sophomore Sean De Ganon won a school raffle and invited his friend Emily Gefell for a chance to see the pope. She called it a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
De Ganon views Francis as a different type of pope from those in the past. "He's much more tolerant of social issues and forgiving," he said. "Going to a Jesuit school and seeing a pope who's a Jesuit is a new experience. You feel connected to him."
Alejandro Flores Sanchez brought his pregnant wife and 2-year-old daughter, Alexa, from Mexico City two days ago for a chance to see the pope. He stood along the fence with Alexa on his shoulders, hoping for a blessing for all his children, including his twin 6-month-old sons back home in Mexico City.
“We’re really excited," he said. "We really hope that the pope can bless this kid, the one my wife has in her belly and the two we have at home.”
To Sanchez, the pope transcends his humanity: "He's the best friend of God. It's a matter of faith. You have to make sure your kids learn that from us, as fathers. I think he's the contact of God with us and the symbol of the church. He's more than a man."
After traveling by the crowds gathered on Fifth Avenue, the pope entered St. Patrick's Cathedral and offered evening prayers before an invited group of bishops, priests, deacons and faithful church workers.