When Pope Francis embarks on his historic visit to the United States later this year, many hope he will ‘play ball’ in continuing a time-honored Bronx tradition.
Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., Comptroller Scott Stringer, Congressman Jose E. Serrano, and Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson are inviting The Holy Father to conduct a Mass at Yankee Stadium during the New York City portion of his visit this September.
The Pontiff plans to visit Washington to canonize the American Missionary, Junipero Serra in a celebration Mass at Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, visit Philadelphia to hold Mass and a prayer vigil for the World Meeting of Families, and visit New York City to address the United Nations General Assembly and hold Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. His trip is currently planned for three days.
Throughout the past five decades, there have been three instances when the Pope held a public Mass inside ‘The House That Ruth Built’.
According to Lloyd Ultan, Bronx Borough Historian and history professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University, this proud tradition can be traced back to Pope Paul VI who held the first public Mass on October 4, 1965.
Pope John Paul II continued this practice in 1979 and made a brief stop at a Catholic facility located in the Melrose section. A crowd soon gathered outside the facility which the Holy Father blessed before traveling to his destination. Pope John Paul II conducted another Mass at Shea Stadium and was the only pope in history to do so, Ultan added.
His successor, Pope Benedict XVI honored it in 2008, but with little fanfare.
The original Yankee Stadium was shut down in late 2008 and razed two years later.
The new homestead for the Bronx Bombers was officially opened on April 2, 2009.
“We have a new pope, a new stadium, and a new hope for the Bronx and our city,” Speaker Mark-Viverito stated.
“This is the 50th anniversary of the papal visit to the United States,” Diaz, Jr. explained. “We are inviting Pope Francis to celebrate that historic event here, this fall.”
“We would be honored to host Pope Francis in the Bronx, the only borough in New York City with a majority Latino population that represents the diversity of our city and our nation,” Congressman Serrano said.
“I hope His Holiness accepts our invitation to grace us with his presence and inspire us with his words. As the first Latin American pope, his visit would be a historic and momentous occasion that would remain with us for generations to come.”
In a full-page advertisement published in last week’s Bronx Times, elected officials asked the Pontiff to conduct a Mass at the new Yankee Stadium during his upcoming trip.
The ad, sponsored by the 161st Street Business Improvement District, depicts His Holiness alongside a public invitation and the elected officials’ signatures.
Cary Goodman, 161st Street BID executive director, explained that he and the elected officials have reached out to several other media news outlets including, NY1, CBS News, and Vatican TV and Radio.
“He has defined his role as ‘the People’s Pope’,” Dr. Goodman said. “This is a neighborhood where people are looking for hope and inspiration and I feel that this is the right environment for His Holiness.”
Dr. Goodman revealed they have reached out to Timothy Cardinal Dolan and Mayor Bill de Blasio for their support and remain optimistic.
“I hope His Honor will endorse the Stadium, especially since the city lost the Democratic National Convention, at least in part because the event and the location did not match well. I feel the same way about the papal visit. We need to match His Holiness with the Stadium to honor this tradition. The Garden and Barclays are too small and we don’t want to lose the Mass to the Meadowlands,” he added.
“Papal visits to the stadium are a great city tradition which we want to continue,” Comptroller Stringer stated.
“This community has hosted global leaders like Nelson Mandela, Reverend Billy Graham, and three popes,” Congresswoman Gibson revealed. “We’d love to host Pope Francis, too.”
The 161st Street BID encourages Bronx residents to spread their enthusiasm for this movement.
As of press time, The Pontiff’s New York itinerary has yet to be finalized.
According to Dr. Goodman, a delegation from The Vatican is expected to meet with Cardinal Dolan and city officials next month to confirm the trip’s prime objectives.