NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — With an enthusiastic crowd of young and old snapping pictures and selfies, Pope Francis arrived to much fanfare at Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem on Friday afternoon.
A line of children shrieked and chanted “Holy Father, we love you!” as he made his way along a barricade outside the school.
A beaming pope blessed them, shaking hands and posing for a few selfies. Some children embraced him, but a security guard intervened when one girl gave him a big hug.
“It was insane. He walked in and I was, ‘Hi, nice to meet you,’ and I just casually lifted my phone up, ‘Can I have a picture please?'” Veronica Depaul, a Catholic school student in Goshen, told WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond.
Some have called this the pope’s most important stop in New York City, as the school serves an economically struggling and mostly immigrant community.
Even days before the pontiff touched down in the U.S., students were already planning to camp out outside the school just for the chance to see him.ah
PHOTOS: Pope Visits East Harlem School
But a group of 24 third- and fourth-grade Catholic school students got the chance to be in the very same room as the pope, singing for Francis himself.
The group represents four Catholic schools in the city, each child picked from a drawing.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s here! I’m so excited. I’m so nervous!'” Logan Colon, 8, from St. Ann’s, told CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez.
“When he patted me on the head, I felt special,” said Essa Nahshal. ” … I’m going to remember this forever and ever.”
“I felt like literally my head dropped all the way to my toes,” said Ngueubou Kamwa, who attends Our Lady Queen of Angels. “And I like actually cried.”
“He said to pray for him. And I hope everybody does,” said Victor Franco of St. Paul’s School.
Pope Francis took time to walk around the classroom and greet each individual student. As he circulated around the room, the children each described projects they were working on.
On a smart board, two young students pulled up a message for the pope that read “We also thank God for the gift of having you as our pope.” The message was also written in Spanish.