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Pope Francis presided over mass for 20,000 people at Madison Square Garden on Friday, and became the second pope to do so.
The Pope entered Madison Square Garden on a mini Popemobile just before 6 p.m., circling the ground level as people snapped photos and rushed toward security lines to get as close to the pontiff as possible.
His homily centered on the spirit of the city.
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“This city has seen a huge light,” Pope Francis said in Spanish, with the “capacity to see light in the middle of these darknesses that the Lord brings.”
Francis spoke of the people the city “hides” — the immigrants, the homeless and the elderly — and reminded the crowd to help these people, and that “Jesus is alive in our city.”
“The city that works and walks in fog has seen a great light and we as Christians are witnesses,” the pope concluded.
Archbishop of New York Timothy Cardinal Dolan said everyday at mass the people of New York pray far and wide for Pope Francis, and the crowd erupted in cheers.
Before mass, Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters he gave Pope Francis a cross made of steel from the destroyed World Trade Center.
“Catholicism is about Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ is all about love and all the derivations of love, passion, humility, nonjudgementalism, and that message is in every religion," Cuomo said. "And that's why I think you've seen the response you've seen from New Yorkers across the board, not just Catholics."
Cuomo said he asked the pope to pray for his girlfriend, Sandra Lee, who was recently declared breast cancer-free, and his late father, Gov. Mario Cuomo.
In the hours leading up to mass, the hallways of Madison Square Garden buzzed with excitement and filled with more priests, nuns and other clergy in traditional dress than usual. Parishioners with time to kill lined up for hot dogs, nachos and other stadium fare.
“I think he’s probably considered the closest person to God, to get a blessing from him, it’s historic and it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Christine Zinna, who works at Dominican College.
“I am happy with his message so far. I think there’s some changes that need to be made, he’s moving in a positive direction,” Zinna said.
Amy Bianco said it was “awesome” that Pope Francis’ visit coincided with Jewish and Muslim holidays.
“His message is to everyone, he’s inclusive,” Bianco said. “The energy in New York — it’s palpable.”
Attendees, who had to arrive at Madison Square Garden hours before the pope arrived, were treated to a pre-mass concert and prayers.
“Think of it as a mini-retreat,” Timothy Cardinal Dolan said in a pre-recorded message, urging the faitful to think about the sharing of the seven sacraments. The cardinal also suggested Catholics participate in confession, which was available throughout the afternoon.
Entertainers included Jennifer Hudson, Gloria Estefan, Harry Connick Jr. and Broadway stars Kelli O’Hara and Norm Lewis.