Joseph M. Samela Jr. came prepared Friday in hopes of seeing Pope Francis in New York City. In a small backpack he estimated weighed at least 30 pounds, he had packed 1.5 gallon of water, 3 pounds of almonds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds, 2 pounds of baby carrots, several pounds of string cheese and cheddar, a first-aid kit, extra socks and underwear, a toothbrush, toothpaste and floss. He also had a separate, dedicated bag for his folding camping chair and a wide-brimmed straw hat from K-Mart, its string fastened firmly under his chin.
"I could find a spot and sit there and stay there all day," Samela, a 62-year-old school administrator from Mount Carmel, Connecticut, who took the day off to come to New York City, said as he sat on the base of a statue on Second Avenue and 44th Street Friday morning. He'd caught a 4:09 a.m. train that day from Connecticut and watched the sun rise from the United Nations on the east side of Manhattan before police kicked him off First Avenue, he said. Samela planned to go back to Connecticut Friday night, but he had packed everything he might need in case, for any reason, he got stuck in the city.
Samela is one of many who abandoned their daily schedules Friday in hopes of catching a glimpse of the immensely popular Pope Francis -- or even just his motorcade -- during his historic first visit to the United States. Uncertain of what route the pope would follow throughout the city and undeterred by high levels of security, they said they planned to follow the pope over several stops scheduled in Manhattan, from the 9/11 Memorial downtown to a school in Harlem, and other places in between. It would be worth it, they said, just to catch a glimpse or be in his vicinity.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime event to see the pope," Catherine Aguilar, 14, said as she perched on one edge of a concrete planter on Second Avenue, a rosary dangling from her neck. She and her 10-year-old sister, Reina, had come with their mother, Marta Aguilar, 50, from Queens. They were skipping school because, Catherine said, she and her sister could go to school any day.
Still, they didn't know if they'd succeed in seeing the pope or his entourage. "We're trying to find out exactly where he's going," said Catherine, who described herself as a devout Catholic who taught at her local church and attended services every Sunday. It had been difficult to figure out his route, she said, but if they didn't catch sight of the pope outside the U.N., they would try to follow him to his next planned stop, at the 9/11 Memorial downtown near the World Trade Center, and so on.
Pope Francis' whirlwind tour this week of Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia, is expected to draw 2 million people and has been designated a national security special event. In New York, an additional 6,000 police officers and 1,200 patrol cars were deployed for the visit. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey recommended that people who usually work in Manhattan do so remotely Friday because of traffic and delays due to blockades, detours and other security measures.
Near the United Nations Friday morning, where Pope Francis addressed the General Assembly, one police officer barked at a jogger to stay on the sidewalk and keep off the street. Secret Service men encased in bulky flak jackets glided around on bicycles as mounted officers in light blue helmets clip-clopped down a barricaded Second Ave. Sirens blared periodically as pockets of police officers hovered on street corners.
Amid the extra security, civilians waited, asking passersby in multiple languages if they knew which way the pope would be coming from.
Herminia Martinez, a 79-year-old retired teacher and a devout Catholic, trekked to New York from Delaware "to see him personally," she said. Zipping her brown fleece up to her chin to ward off the morning breeze, she said she had seen the three popes preceding Pope Francis.
"I always want to see the leaders of my faith," Martinez said. "And for me, Pope Francis is strong. I think he's brave," she added, punctuating the words "strong" and "brave" with her fist.
Others did not come from as far but arrived near the U.N. before dawn nonetheless -- just in case. "We got here at 3 a.m.," said Orlando Osorio, a 22-year-old student from Brooklyn who was accompanied by fellow student, Fatima Fuentes, 20, who wore a Pope Francis T-shirt. They had first tried going to U.N. headquarters on First Avenue but the police soon asked them to leave, they said.
Osorio and Fuentes said they were Catholics, part of the youth movement Jordán de Vida Cristiana. "We try to spread the word of God to young people," Osorio said. Because they had plans the rest of the day -- making sandwiches and then distributing them to the homeless -- catching a glimpse of Pope Francis outside the U.N. was their only chance to see him that day.
The prospect of seeing Pope Francis merely drive by was enough to draw the nonreligious, too. Shortly before 8 a.m., Chris Caputo, a 33-year-old computer forensics examiner from Astoria, Queens, lingered near a corner on Second Avenue, finishing a bagel spread with lox cream cheese, hoping to "try to catch a glimpse of him." He said he worked at an office nearby but had made a point of arriving early Friday to try to see the pope.
"I think he's an incredible person from a humanitarian perspective," Caputo said, citing Francis' attention to the homeless. "I usually don't come in until 9," he said. "The fact that I got up two hours early says a lot."