NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — With just days until Pope Francis makes his first ever visit to the United States, his popularity has hit a fevered pitch.
He is seen from a 15-story mural in Midtown to a Vatican City made out of LEGOS — and the pope is even showing up on pizza boxes.READ MORE: Vietnam War Veterans Mark Somber Anniversary On Long Island: 'We Are Forgotten A Lot ... Because We Didn't Win, Supposedly'
Every trip he takes, Pope Francis has been met by adoring masses of the faithful, his first trip to the U.S. promises the same.
“We are big fans. Our parish is very fond of his social justice program,” Catherine Kells said.
“Pope Francis, he presents a positive image for the Catholic church,” Devin McGettian said.
“I like the openness he brings to the church,” Cathy Stack added.
It seems New York loves Pope Francis.
A Sienna College poll found that 75 percent of New Yorkers, whether Catholic or not, gave the Pope a thumbs up, according to the Pew Research Center.
These are numbers not seen since Pope John Paul II in 2005.
“We’ve needed for a while a renewed image, a renewed face of the church and Pope Francis is giving it to us,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan said.
After statements about controversial topics like climate change and capitalism, a recent Gallup Poll showed the Pontiff’s popularity taking a hit, especially with political conservatives.
“He’s going to try to stimulate our thinking so that we can creatively, wisely, intelligently devise policies that will best advance the underlying moral principles,” Robert George, Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University said.
Francis called global warming a largely man made problem driven by over consumption. He urged the church to be less judgmental and more merciful uttering, “who am I to judge?” about a purportedly gay priest. While upholding the church’s teaching opposing abortion, Pope Francis allows priests to grant absolution during the upcoming holy year of mercy.
“He’s an equal opportunity disturber in that, when we listen to some things we smile, as we listen to other things he says we bristle. But Jesus was like that, remember?” Cardinal Dolan said.READ MORE: Black History Is Our History: Divine Nine Fraternities, Sororities Offer Lifetime Of Brotherhood, Sisterhood For African Americans
Francis’ changes have drawn the spotlight away from one of the church’s biggest controversy’s; clergy sex abuse scandals. The ongoing debate about what should be done in many of those cases has been largely overshadowed by public fascination with Francis.
Dolan: The Pope Is Intrigued By The U.S.
Cardinal Dolan talked Wednesday night about his first extended meeting with Francis in Rome, six months after the Pope was elected.
“He said, could we just talk about the United States? He literally got out an atlas, to the map of the United States, and said ‘would you kind of take me through this?’ Course I started with New York,” Dolan told CBS2’s Tony Aiello.
The U.S. has 70 million Catholics, the fourth largest Catholic population in the world, yet never in his life has Francis visited.
Cardinal Dolan said he sense the Pope is arriving with a genuine desire to listen and learn.
“I said what a humble guy to admit that, ‘I need some help understanding this great country. An important part of the flock is the Catholic family in the USA and I need to get to know them,'” Dolan said.
The flock is every bit as anxious to greet their supreme pastor. In the basement of St. Patrick’s Cathedral a choir practiced for its papal performance, while upstairs is gleaming following a multi-year restoration, and a deep cleansing was underway.
“It will be done by the time he arrives. It may be done at the last minute, but it will be done,” Rector Robert Ritchie said.
The cathedral wants to make a good first impression on the first time visitor.
You can watch all of the Pope’s events on CBS2 and on CBSNewYork.com.
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