Pope Francis led evening prayers at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Thursday evening, less than two hours after touching down in New York City and greeting thousands of adoring fans while riding up Fifth Avenue.
His first public words in New York were sent to Muslims on Eid al-Adha.
“I would like to express two sentiments for my Muslim brothers and sisters,” Pope Francis said in Spanish during his homily. “I would have wished my greeting to be warmer, my sentiments of closeness in the face of tragedy they suffered in Mecca. In this moment I give assurance of my prayers, I unite myself with you all,” the pope said of the Wednesday stampede that left more than 700 dead during the annual pilgrimage.
Francis spoke of humility and measuring success as “a grateful heart … compelled to serve the Lord.”
“Perhaps we need to ask ourselves, are we capable of counting our blessings, or have I forgotten them,” the pope asked.
He thanked American nuns for their work and contributions to the church, and was met with a standing ovation.
Timothy Cardinal Dolan said the pope became a New Yorker when he walked into the newly-renovated cathedral, and Dolan said he asked Pope Francis to bless St. Patrick's.
After touching down at JFK around 5 p.m., Pope Francis took a helicopter to Wall Street, then his motorcade uptown. On Fifth Avenue, he hopped out of his Fiat and into the Popemobile with Dolan as Commissioner Bill Bratton watched.
Marvin Molina, 34, from Queens said he and his partner went to the corner of 57th Street and Fifth Avenue about two hours before they caught a brief glimpse of Francis passing by.
"It was important for us to try to see him, being Catholic. He is important to us, especially being Latino,” said Molina, who was born in Ecuador.
After seeing Francis drive by and capturing the video on her tablet, Molina’s partner put her arms to her chest.
Outside, the police perimeter around St. Patrick’s extended down the entire block of 53rd Street. As crowds cheered along the route, New Yorkers along 54th Street were just trying to get home. Department of Sanitation trucks blocked the road, and the closest subway station entrance was at 47th Street.
The pope was received outside the cathedral by Mayor Bill de Blasio, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Sen. Chuck Schumer.
Inside, Francis proceeded to the altar as audience members and cardinals snapped photos and took videos of the historic moment with their cell phones. Francis shook hands with parishioners in the front row before the service started.
In numbers released before the pontiff touched down, the NYPD released numbers on security preparations for Pope Francis’ stay.
The department will use 24,500 barriers stretching 37 miles, 1,200 traffic cones, 43 sand trucks in Central Park and 409 concrete blocks weighing 818 tons across the city. Another 19 barrier trucks will be used.
Pope Francis will be in the Big Apple for 39 hours and 40 minutes, and cover 54 miles on the ground.
Coupled with the U.N. General Assembly, there will be 220 different motorcades.
A price tag was not given for the pope’s visit. Pope Benedict’s three-day visit in 2008 cost $6.5 million, and Pope John Paul IIs five-day visit in 1995 cost $4.4 million, according to the NYPD.
Additional reporting by Chester Soria.