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Pope Francis blesses crowd along New York's Fifth Avenue

Pope Francis blesses crowd along New York's Fifth Avenue
Pope Francis arrives at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan to an enthusiastic crowd. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

The city that never sleeps got a new reason to stay awake in pageantry and celebration Thursday as Pope Francis arrived in Manhattan for a whirlwind tour that will take him from the heights of international authority at the United Nations to the scene of the nation's tragedy at the World Trade Center.

Fresh from a speech to a joint meeting of Congress, where he pushed his agenda of helping immigrants and the poor while healing the planet from the effects of climate change, Francis arrived for evening prayers at the legendary St. Patrick's Cathedral on Manhattan's storied, high-end shopping district along Fifth Avenue.

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Thousands of people lined up along police barricades for a glimpse of the pontiff. Some wore Francis T-shirts, others waved Vatican flags. All praised the pope, who had traveled more than 4,200 miles from the Holy See to share his message of compassion and tolerance. He will be in New York for 39 hours and 40 minutes, then will go to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families.

"He's a very meaningful person because of his character and the way he loves people," said Grace Cordoza, 75, of Hyde Park, N.Y. "It always touched me."

Her friend, Gail Giacobbe, 67, of Basking Ridge, N.J., said she admired the example he sets for others.

"We want to emulate not only what he says but how he lives his life," Giacobbe said.

Francis was greeted with cheers along Fifth Avenue as he made his way in his "popemobile," flanked by police vehicles with flashing lights,  to the cathedral. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, leader of one of the nation's largest parishes, rode with him.

The cathedral's bells pealed as Francis blessed the crowd and waved. In a touch to unite him with regular people, the pontiff also flashed an occasional thumbs-up.

Non-Catholics joined the pope-adoring crowd. Janie and Michael Huddleton, siblings from Birmingham, Ala., described themselves as a non-denominational Christian and an atheist, respectively.

"I wanted to be part of what New Yorkers experience," said Janie, 27. "Nothing like this ever happens in Birmingham."

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio and U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer were among those who greeted Francis on the steps of the 136-year-old cathedral, freshly scrubbed from a three-year, $175-million renovation.

Francis' smiling face was everywhere – plastered across T-shirts, refrigerator magnets, prayer cards and life-size cardboard cutouts – perfect for snapping selfies.

A more unusual papal item was selling like crazy out of an Italian bakery in the Bronx – a cookie adorned with an edible photograph of the pope's beaming face.

The confection is a vanilla cookie covered in white icing, onto which is placed the pope's face, printed with food coloring on fondant.

Natalie Corridori, the manager of Artuso's Pastry Shop on East 187th Street, says the bakery has sold more than 200,000 of the treats in the weeks leading up to the pope's New York City arrival. And the orders keep coming.

"The line is going out the door, the phone is ringing off the hook. We can't keep up with demand," Corridori said Wednesday. "We have two photo cake printers going day and night as well as the oven."

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The bakery has a history of baking pope cookies. It first created a cookie for Pope Benedict XVI's 2008 Mass at Yankee Stadium, Corridori said. It again created a Benedict cookie when he retired in 2013 and did a run of Francis cookies when he was elected pope that year.

Pope Francis arrived in New York City in the late afternoon aboard a chartered American Airlines 777, landing at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio and five Roman Catholic schoolchildren were there to greet him.

Not far from Kennedy airport, members of New York's Argentine community hoped against hope that the pontiff who hails from Buenos Aires would stop for a visit in the corner of Queens known as "Little Argentina." Several shop owners had decorated their windows with "Welcome Pope Francis" murals in English and Spanish.

At many establishments, TVs were tuned to live coverage of the pope's visit.

Marcello Civelli, whose family owns El Gauchito restaurant and butcher on Corona Avenue, said he and other community leaders had appealed to local politicians and priests, hoping to get the neighborhood added to the pope's New York itinerary.

Official efforts were unsuccessful, but they still hoped for a surprise stop. Argentine pride runs strong in the area, where the fire hydrants are painted blue and white, like the country's flag, said Christian Gimenez, who owns Rio Del Plata Bakery across the street from El Gauchito.

Gustavo Soriani, 48, who was visiting New York from Chile, said he remembers hearing about Francis' work in Argentina before he was elected pope. "He did a lot to help the poor people in Argentina, and now I guess he is trying to do bigger things."

In his homily at St. Patrick's, Francis warned against "surrounding ourselves with worldly comforts.... Slowly but surely, it diminishes our spirit of sacrifice, our spirit of renunciation and spirit of hard work. It also alienates people who suffer material poverty and are forced to make greater sacrifices than ourselves."

As he has throughout his trip, Francis tackled tough issues facing his church and its leaders in the United States.

"Gratitude and hard work, these are two pillars of the spiritual life which I have wanted to share with you this evening," Francis said. "I thank you for prayers and work, and the daily sacrifices you make in the various areas of your apostolate. Many of these are known only to God, but they bear rich fruit for the life of the church.

"In a special way, I would like to express my esteem and gratitude to the religious women of the United States," he said to cheers. "What would the church be without you? Women of strength, fighters, with that spirit of courage which puts you on the front lines in the proclamation of the Gospel. To you, religious women, sisters and mothers of this people, I wish to say thank you, a big thank you … and to tell you that I love you very much."

Francis also touched on priestly child abuse.

"You suffered greatly in the not distant past by having to bear the shame of some of your brothers who harmed and scandalized the church in the most vulnerable of her members," the pontiff told his clergy. "I accompany you at this time of pain and difficulty, and I thank God for your faithful service to his people."

After evening prayers, Francis got into a small Fiat, glancing at his watch at the end of his long day. He was to spend the night at the Vatican's diplomatic residence.

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Times staff writers Carolyn Cole in New York and Michael Muskal in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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