Nothing Short of a Miracle

Nothing Short of a Miracle: When the Pope comes to New York, the Big Apple should feel like heaven on earth.

Published September 11, 2015 5:00 AM
4 min read


pope-edit-thNothing Short of a Miracle:
When the Pope comes to New York, the Big Apple should feel like heaven on earth.

By Janice Llanes Fabry

popeWhen the Pope comes to New York, the Big Apple should feel like heaven on earth. Archbishop Timothy Dolan had faith that one man could move mountains to make that happen. Who better than Rye’s Alfred F. Kelly Jr., former president of American Express and the host of Super Bowl XLVIII?

“Cardinal Dolan is a friend, who confided that the Holy Father was definitely coming to New York in the fall. When he asked me to run the entire trip, I said yes. I couldn’t say no to the Cardinal,” explained Kelly, who is working pro bono for the Archdiocese as the NYC Papal Visit 2015 Chair.

The enormity of Pope Francis’ highly anticipated visit, September 24-26, does not escape Kelly. “Out of 266 Popes, Pope Francis is only the fourth to visit New York. Pope Paul VI was the first in October 1965, almost 50 years ago. This is pretty historical,” he noted. “A papal visit also brings a whole set of traditions and protocols that we have to precisely adhere to.”

To that end, Kelly and Cardinal Dolan have collaborated with heads of the Vatican’s Advance and Security teams, as well as its Master of Liturgical Ceremonies. From a small central headquarters at the New York Catholic Center on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Kelly and a small staff also handle logistics, ticketing, and merchandising.

Pope2“We wanted to provide merchandise that would reflect our mission: a simple, meaningful, religious visit from the Holy Father,” said Director of Operations Ann O’Keefe Bave. “The merchandise has all been designed for us and is Limited Edition. We have rosary beads, medallions, Christmas ornaments, and other special souvenirs that will be treasured for years to come.”

As far as security, Kelly works closely with the United States Secret Service, a key enforcement agency under Homeland Security, as well as the NYC Police Department and City Hall. Like the Super Bowl, the papal visit constitutes a National Special Security Event, so, as Kelly put it, “the federal government is in the driver’s seat.”

Early on, the Chair identified two other major challenges, one being the primary purpose of the pontiff’s trip to the United States. Pope Francis’ focus is the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, a global event organized by the Catholic Church to strengthen familial bonds, one of the hallmarks of his papacy. Consequently, Kelly is cognizant about providing the pontiff and his many followers and fans with a memorable trip without upstaging Philadelphia.

The other challenge Kelly faces is the very short duration of his stay. “Pope Francis will be here only 38 hours, which makes it more difficult because there’s not a lot of time for New Yorkers to see him,” he explained. “There are only 23,000 to 24,000 tickets available for official events, so it was important for us to find ways for more Catholic faithful and citizens to have exposure to the Holy Father.”

As a result, in addition to an evening vespers service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a multi-religious service at the 9/11 Memorial, and a mass at Madison Square Garden, people will also have the opportunity to see Pope Francis in an open vehicle along Fifth Avenue on the way to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

In addition, another 100,000 New Yorkers may acquire free tickets to catch a glimpse of the Pope in his motorcade at a procession through Central Park. Kelly noted that participants must have a ticket for each event and are required to go through a magnetometer. He encourages public transportation.

“It’s an honor to help Cardinal Dolan lead this effort,” said Kelly, a devout Catholic, who will most likely meet Pope Francis once he lands at a NYC helipad. “It has been quite interesting to get an inside glimpse of the Vatican, and it definitely has special meaning because we’re talking about our faith and the global leader of our religion.”

For Pope Francis’ full schedule and for ticketing information, visit the official website,


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