A message of unity is one that the East Harlem’s Our Lady Queen of Angels School will deliver to Pope Francis when he visits in September.
“Francis is coming here because he’s for the people,” said Timothy McNiff, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of New York. “We want to share with Pope Francis what’s they’ve (the children) have been working on and this is an example of us doing small things that can make a difference in the world.”
The school is one of the stops on Pope Francis’ New York City tour and together with three others – St. Ann, St. Charles Borromeo and St. Paul – they will present several projects the students at each have been working on that resonate with some of the messages his Holiness has touched upon.
A group of 24 third and fourth graders from each school will have the opportunity to sit with the pope and show him their work, ranging from the use of technology in helping the environment to remembering the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
“The investment we make on these children is to have a relationship with Jesus,” said McNiff. “Part of your growing in life is your relationship with God and for the immigrants here in addition to their faith, they need tools for an excellent academic experience.”
Despite attending a Catholic school, some of the children follow a different faith but enjoy the openness of the facility and are excited nonetheless to meet the pope, like Essa Nahsal, a fourth grader who’s Muslim and originally from Yemen.
“I thought wow, I’m going to meet the pope,” said Nahshal, from St. Charles Borromeo School. “I like him (the pope) because he wants to take care of the environment.”
According to Aleeya Francis, St. Charles’ principal, only 27 percent of the student body identifies as Catholic and although the curriculum they follow is religion based, they accept every faith.
“I do not believe in religious tolerance,” said Francis. “Tolerance means I’m putting up with something. We believe in religious acceptance. It is a very open learning community.”
Pope Francis will be visiting NYC on September 25 as part of a six-day tour on his first trip to the United States. He is scheduled to speak at the United Nations General Assembly, followed by a multi-religious service at the 9/11 Memorial, stopping by the school and ending the day with a mass at Madison Square Garden.
As the first South American and Jesuit pope, children and adults alike are nervous and excited at the prospect of meeting the highest representative of the Catholic Church and they hope to make a lasting impression on him.
“Pope Francis lives a message of peace and love in a world where there is so much hate,” said Joseph Muscente, principal of St. Paul School. “He is the light that says love each other, that’s easy to do and that would make the world a better place.”