NEW YORK–On his first morning in New York City, Pope Francis early Friday arrived at the United Nations, where he was scheduled to deliver to the General Assembly an address delving into a wide range of international issues, from nuclear proliferation to drug trafficking, from preserving the environment to narrowing social and economic equality.
At around 8:20 a.m., Pope Francis’s motorcade pulled up to the U.N. on Manhattan’s East Side, where he was greeted by the body’s Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of South Korea.
The pope’s U.N. speech is the first in a series of stops scheduled Friday, the emotional apex of which probably will be his visit three hours later to Ground Zero, the memorial in Lower Manhattan where nearly 3,000 people died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
By 7:30 a.m. Friday, about 200 people were on line outside a tickets-only entrance to the Ground Zero sight, many of them relatives of people who were killed on 9-11.
Ariana Vigiano, 16, and her mother Maria Vigiano-Trapp, 50, were near the front after arriving early from their home on Long Island. Both said they were hoping the pope would fortify their faith in God, which was shaken after Ariana’s father, John, a New York City firefighter, was killed trying to rescue people from the World Trade Center after the attack.
“I’m still trying to get a little bit of closure,” she said. “I’m hoping he will say something that will really speak to me and help me feel really spiritual and try to get me in touch with my father.”
After a late-afternoon tour of a Catholic elementary school in East Harlem and a motorcade past sprawling crowds in Central Park, Pope Francis is to preside at a 6 p.m. Mass before 19,000 worshipers at Madison Square Garden.
Since his arrival Tuesday, the pope has addressed a number of weighty issues, including immigration, climate change and the death penalty. His speech before the United Nations, was expected to be no less substantial, providing him an opportunity to deliver to a worldwide audience his expansive views on the environment and economic and social issues.
The pope’s address could influence the General Assembly as it prepares to approve a set of sustainable development goals that include ending world hunger and poverty and ensuring the availability of clean energy and water.
In his writings, the pope has urged world leaders to battle climate change, linking it to broader cultural practices that encourage wasteful behavior. Pope Francis also has written that global warming disproportionately hurts people in poor countries who are least capable of helping themselves.
“We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth,” the pope wrote in his encyclical on the environment, entitled “Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home.” “The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes, such as those which even now periodically occur in different areas of the world.”
In his first trip to the United States, a five-day tour that includes Washington, New York and Philadelphia, jubilant crowds have showered the 78-year-old spiritual leader with adoration as he has traveled between stops, some of which have highlighted his commitment to the poor and dispossessed.
The figurehead for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, Pope Francis has addressed several complex issues during his trip, imploring congressional leaders at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday to set aside bitter partisan differences to achieve progress on immigration reform.
Earlier in the week, during a visit to the White House, the pope expressed support for President Obama’s campaign to tackle climate change.
When he visits the 9/11 memorial in lower Manhattan, the site where planes struck the World Trade Center 14 years ago, the pope is expected to meet with families of some of the victims who died in the attack.
The pope is to descend into the lower level of the Ground Zero museum, for a multi-religious ceremony organizers hope will promote tolerance at a time of disturbing religious violence and skepticism. The ceremony is to occur in the soaring Foundation Hall, against a World Trade Center retaining wall that survived the attacks.
The choice of the spot represents a “new urgency” for religious tolerance, said James Massa, a Brooklyn bishop who has been a national Catholic leader on interfaith work and who designed the ceremony.
“That’s the wall that holds back the Hudson River,” he said. “If that had fallen on 9/11, even greater chaos would have happened. It held. It’s the wall that holds back the chaos. I think these leaders with the pope are gathered, like the conscious of our time, that holds back the chaos of war and violence and hatred that afflict segments of humanity.”
The pope’s whirlwind day will conclude with the Mass at Madison Square Garden, the warmup for which will include performances by singers Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Hudson and Gloria Estefan.
On Saturday morning, Pope Francis is to travel to Philadelphia, where his stops will include the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Center City, Independence Hall and a correctional facility.
The pope flies back to Rome on Sunday.