Photographer Joe Vericker recently made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. So I didn’t.
He offered to let Catholic New York publish some of the photos that he had taken for the archdiocese during Pope Francis’ whirlwind visit to New York Sept. 24-26, 2015. His assignment was to “historically document” the visit here. From the evidence of his work that I’ve seen, he did his job very well. Those are his photos that you see on the next page.
I hope that they bring back some great memories for you, whether you encountered the pope close-up at one of the celebrations and other visits he made in the archdiocese, or even if you just saw him on TV or read about his trip in the pages of Catholic New York.
An award-winning photographer, Vericker is the founder of PhotoBureau Inc. This was the third papal trip that he has covered. He had the same type of access when Pope Benedict came to the Big Apple in 2008, and also covered the visit of St. John Paul II in 1995.
His access to Pope Francis was rivaled only by the Vatican photographer, Vericker said. It’s easy to believe him when you look at his images from the trip, including some that he has compiled into a coffee-table book that he made for himself and shared with a few friends and associates, including me.
Vericker said that what stood out to him about the Holy Father was the emotion he exhibited. That came through in many moments, large and small, when he met people, often for the first time. For me, one of the best moments that Vericker captured is the shot of the pontiff linking hands with the crowd of students outside Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem at the top of the next page. It’s hard to tell who is having more fun, the pope or the kids. It looks like he would have stretched his arms out to embrace the entire crowd if that were possible.
Of course, the entire world has felt that personal embrace from Francis since he was elected pope three and a half years ago. Last year, it was our turn to experience him in our midst, and he did not disappoint us.
On the cover of our issue chronicling his visit, we called the visit “A Profound Encounter.” There is something to that, I believe. It wasn’t merely a meet and greet, or even a respectful visit from our spiritual leader. No, it was more like an encounter with a major figure from the Bible like St. Peter or St. Paul.
Like many, I can hardly believe that it’s been a year since Pope Francis visited. Planning this issue that you are reading now, we knew that we would have a confluence of the 15th anniversary of 9/11 along with a look-ahead to the anniversary of last year’s papal visit.
Naturally, one of the bridges between both was Pope Francis’ poignant visit to the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum, which recalled Pope Benedict’s seven years earlier. The pope prayed silently outside at the memorial and then led an interfaith service inside the museum’s underground Foundation Hall.
Even 15 years after the devastation wrought by the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers, I confess I have a hard time keeping my emotions in check when I think of that day, especially on a marked occasion like Sunday’s anniversary.
On the day he visited last September, Pope Francis called on those present at the interfaith gathering to spend a moment in silent prayer. “Let us implore from on high the gift of commitment to the cause of peace…,” he said.
“In this way, the lives of our dear ones will not be lives which will one day be forgotten. Instead, they will be present whenever we strive to be prophets not of tearing down, but of building up, prophets of reconciliation, prophets of peace.”