Pope Francis receives a hero’s welcome at JFK Airport

Pope Francis arrived on a chartered American Airlines jet at John F. Kennedy Airport at 5:10 p.m. Thursday afternoon, beginning the second leg of his journey to the United States.

Fresh off a visit to Washington—where he delivered an address before a joint session of Congress that morning—the pontiff received an ovation by a group of 200 people, which included local Catholic school students, charity volunteers, clergy members and homeless people.

Francis’ arrival culminated a spiritual celebration near the JFK runway among those lucky enough to participate. Before the plane landed, tenor Daniel Rodriguez – a former 68th Precinct Police Officer – sang hymns and various members of the clergy led the gathering in reciting prayers of the rosary.

Once the moment arrived, the Xaverian High School jazz band played “New York, New York” as Francis descended the staircase and met Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio on the tarmac.

Monsignor Jaime Gigantiello – the Vicar for Development for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and a pastor at the Saint Bernard’s Church – and Father Michael Gelfant of Saint Finbar’s Church in Bath Beach were among the delegation on hand to greet Francis.

Francis also received gifts from a group of five children from schools within the diocese—three of whom hail from Brooklyn—who were on hand to greet the pope. They presented him with “spiritual bouquets,” bundles of flowers containing hand-written prayers for the Holy Father, as Msgr. Kieran Harrington—vicar of communications for the Diocese of Brooklyn—told reporters.

Francis’ arrival at JFK wasn’t considered his official welcome to New York, Harrington noted. The official greeting took place a short time later, when Francis—whisked from JFK by helicopter—arrived in Manhattan and was met by dignitaries including Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

A motorcade then brought the pontiff to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a prayer service, then to the Vatican consulate, where he spent the night ahead of a busy Friday in the Big Apple.

The Holy Father addressed the United Nations General Assembly, then participated in a multi-denominational prayer service at the National September 11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan. From there, he headed to an East Harlem Catholic school to meet students.

On Friday afternoon, some 80,000 New Yorkers are expected to get a glimpse of Pope Francis as his motorcade travels through Central Park en route to Madison Square Garden, where the pontiff will celebrate Mass before a congregation of 20,000.

Francis will then return to JFK on Saturday morning for a short flight to Philadelphia, where he will attend the World Meeting of Families.

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