By Jessica Easthope
The Tablet was there to cover it all, the nose of an Al Italia jet came around the corner and into a private hangar in a remote area of John F. Kennedy International Airport. Ed Wilkinson, Editor Emeritus of the Tablet first saw the Holy Father from behind the lens of his camera.
“It only lasted for about ten minutes and it was supposed to be a non-event but for those of us there it was really thrilling,” he said.
Before he made it to New York, he met with survivors of clergy sex abuse in Washington D.C. The closed-door meeting was a first step in acknowledging the evil and restoring trust in the Church.
“When the Holy Father came and he met with some of the victims it was a sense that we were acknowledging this was a very harmful time and very sinful and he was very emphatic he said anyone who committed sexual abuse should not be a priest, he said there is no place in the priesthood for someone who abuses a child,” said Wilkinson.
“I was really proud that he did that,” said Bishop Emeritus Nicholas DiMarzio. “It definitely helped, you could see that he suffered through that area of his worked, every time he spoke about it he said it was terrible, it was a scandal, it should have never happened and should never happen again.”
The pope’s fast paced days in the big apple were marked by some iconic moments, like when he prayed for the souls lost on September 11, 2001 at Ground Zero in a city whose wounds of that day were still fresh, even seven years later.
“In spite of the fact that he said all these Masses the most moving moment was when he went to Ground Zero, people sensitivities were still raw and to see him go down there and pray on a kneeler it was a moving part of the trip,” Wilkinson said.
But it was cheers not even the Yankees themselves could bring on that brought the Pope into Yankee stadium to say Mass for 57,000 people, all erupting in applause for the Holy Father.
“You just got a sense of the immensity of the event and the Holy Father was waving to everyone and he had his papal cross and there was a huge crowd and and he was very well accepted,” said Wilkinson.
And another first, on his trip to New York City, Pope Benedict became the first Pope to enter a Jewish place of worship, he made an unprecedented visit to the Park East Synagogue on the eve of Passover. He made the arrangements himself.
“It wasn’t something anyone here thought of or arranged, he put that in, and he was always inter-religious,” said Bishop DiMarzio.
His departure was more like a party, 1,000 people, including then Vice President Dick Cheney and the second lady saw the Holy Father off. He thanked Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio by name.
“Just kindness, he exuded kindness in every way,” he said.
During his visit to New York, Bishop DiMarzio said a Pope who was misunderstood and had a reputation for being a harsh enforcer, couldn’t have been more gentle.