By Carol Zimmermann
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) – Hours before Pope Benedict was scheduled to travel along Fifth Avenue people began lining the barricaded route hoping to get just a glimpse of him.
A group of students from Ave Maria University just outside Naples, Fla., waited five hours in a spot right in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral, where the pope celebrated a morning Mass for clergy and religious April 19.
Following Mass, the pope rode in his popemobile several blocks from the cathedral to the residence of the Vatican's U.N. nuncio.
Just before the pope passed by in his popemobile, the Ave Maria students were periodically breaking out in song, singing in Spanish about the pope being Christ on earth.
"I just want to see him and tell him how much we love him," said Lauren Wilson, a freshman.
Rachel Smolinski, a graduate student at the university, said she was there to express her gratitude toward the pope for his example of holiness.
"We want to answer God's call as he did," she said in an interview with Catholic News Service.
When the popemobile drove by, the crowd in front of St. Patrick's clapped, cheered and waved American, Italian and Vatican flags. Those who were flagless waved white tissues in the air. As soon as the pope went by, some began running alongside although it was unlikely they could keep up such a pace for the pope's 20-block route, much less find room on the sidewalk to try it.
Further along the route people were crammed on the sidewalks making it hard for some to even catch a coveted glimpse of the pontiff, whom many greeted with cheers of "El Papa" or "Benedicto!"
Two women from Ohio who happened at the last minute to find out about the papal route made their way to Fifth Avenue but found their view obstructed from people on others' shoulders taking pictures.
One of the women told Catholic News Service that even though she wasn't Catholic she wanted to see the pope. Even though she didn't get the chance, she said she felt blessed just to see how much respect people had for him.
The route had very much a festive atmosphere and no protesters were present at least in the near vicinity of the cathedral. Security was extremely tight with a strong police presence. For some the location brought back memories of 1995, when Pope John Paul II took an unexpected detour down Fifth Avenue to greet people personally, that did not happen during this papal visit.
After Pope Benedict rode by the cathedral, the front of the church became a meeting spot. Hundreds congregated on the front steps as they might after Sunday Mass. They also continued taking pictures and some wanted their pictures taken with groups of religious sisters.
A group in traditional Polish outfits sang Polish songs in tribute to Pope Benedict and carried large pictures of Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II.
Immediately after the Mass several people who had been in the congregation said Pope Benedict's presence was inspirational, but they were almost equally awed that so many Catholics had gathered to see him.
Seeing priests and religious fill the pews at the cathedral made Father John Gabriel, pastor of St. Thomas More Parish in Fairfield, N.J., realize "we're part of a whole family that's bigger than you imagine."
"It's a testimony to the unity of the church that all of us are together to pray," said Sister of Life Kathrine Marie.
On the sidewalk in front of the cathedral, Sonia Salerni from Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Queens still held aloft her banner with a greeting in German to the pope even after he was gone and police were taking down barricades.
"This is a grace-filled moment," she said.
Phyllis Vance from the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Ala., called the pope's visit "an honor for New York."
Moments after the pope went by she said it was hard to express her reaction.
"I never thought I'd see the pope," she added. "I need to sit back and absorb it all."
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