UPDATED 09/25/15 12:13 a.m.

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Pope Francis arrived in New York late Thursday afternoon to thrilled crowds and exuberant cheers, as some called their encounter with the pontiff the “most precious moment” of their lives.

Late Tuesday night, Pope Francis retired to the nuncio’s residence on East 72nd Street, following a vespers service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

It capped off an evening where thrills and excitement followed the pope everywhere he went, from John F. Kennedy International Airport to a joyous motorcade on Fifth Avenue.

The pope’s American Airlines plane landed at the JFK shortly at 5:08 p.m. The flight time from Washington, D.C. totaled 51 minutes, CBS2 reported.

As CBS2’s Tracee Carrasco reported, all eyes were on the skies as Pope Francis’ American Airlines jet rolled down the tarmac – with American and Vatican flags mounted outside the cockpit.

Pope Francis removed the zucchetto from his head as he descended a mobile staircase and shook hands with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Brooklyn Archbishop Nicholas DiMarzio, and Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the permanent observer to the Holy See for the United Nations.

Pope Francis Arrives In NYC

Pope Francis arrives at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Sept. 24, 2015 (Credit: CBS2)

A high school band played “New York, New York” as Pope Francis made his way to the crowd at the airport.

“It’s pretty extraordinary right now,” CBS2’s Dick Brennan said at the airport just as the pope landed. “He’s moving toward the crowd, and his face is absolutely beaming.”

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As CBS2’s Brennan reported, a small and fortunate group of Catholic school students got to greet Pope Francis in person as he landed.

Christine Desanges, 15; Raymond Rico, 12; Brianna Wood, 9; Omodele Ojo, 10; and Maria Heyer, 5, are all students in the Brooklyn Archdiocese. They were selected personally to meet and greet Pope Francis at JFK Airport.

“It feels exciting and joyful, because he’s close to God,” said Brianna, of Breezy Point, Queens. “He can make this world a better place.”

“On a scale of one to 10, it’s a 10,” added Christina.

The five were selected out of more than 30,000 students in the Brooklyn diocese.

They presented Pope Francis with something called a spiritual bouquet – a binder of sorts consisting of prayers and acts of kindness from each of the diocese 86 schools in Brooklyn and Queens.

Pope Francis also greeted a teenager suffering from cerebral palsy who had asked for blessings, among others. The pope also gave very broad hugs to a few people in the crowd, CBS2’s Brennan reported.

Another girl who met Pope Francis – Julia Buzzese, 12 — is confined to a wheelchair after losing her ability to walk. She told CBS2’s Brennan she had received a preliminary diagnosis of Lyme disease, but the reason for her disability was unclear.

She said she told the pope “bless me father,” as he touched her.

“It was the most precious moment of my life,” she said.

Pope Francis then boarded a helicopter, took him to the Wall Street Helipad in Lower Manhattan. The helicopter landed at the Wall Street Helipad just before 6 p.m., where a black Fiat was waiting. The pope got into the back seat of the Fiat, which headed up the FDR Drive along with a motorcade.

The motorcade with the Fiat headed along Fifth Avenue to cheering crowds and flying Vatican flags as the pope waved from the back seat. Crowds from around the world stood awaiting the pope, CBS2’s Lou Yong reported. Even Donald Trump watched the scene from a fifth-floor window.

The motorcade then stopped in the middle of Fifth Avenue at 55th Street, where he switched from the black Fiat to an open-air Popemobile mounted atop a white Jeep Wrangler. Cardinal Dolan briefly climbed aboard the Popemobile to greet the pope.

The crowd erupted in waves of cheer as the pope proceeded along Fifth Avenue in the Popemobile.

People on Fifth Avenue were beaming with smiles, 1010 WINS’ Darius Radzius reported. But some were disappointed that they didn’t get a glimpse of Pope Francis.

Cardinal Dolan, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) were part of the welcoming committee for the pope once he reached St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Cuomo issued a tweet of welcome.

“I believe his message transcends any one religion,” Cuomo told CBS2’s Maurice DuBois and Kristine Johnson.

Cuomo also emphasized the inspiring quality of Pope Francis’ humility.

“When you see him, he just communicates that with his being; his bearing. I love that he drives a Fiat. He just wants to say that, ‘I am for the common man,’ and the common man needs a champion,” Cuomo said.

On Thursday night, the pope presided over a vespers service at St. Patrick’s. The service began with hymns sung in multiple languages.

As CBS2’s Diane Macedo reported, the Holy Father made his way down the aisle and stopped to greet worshipers. As is often the case, Pope Francis stopped to reach out to a little girl in a wheelchair.

Pope Francis then spoke Spanish at the service, noting that Thursday marked the Islamic day of sacrifice Eid al-Adha and mourning the stampede that left more than 700 people dead during the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca.

“I have two feelings for my Islamic brothers. First, I recognize that today is the day of sacrifice, and I wish I could then make this warmer; this greeting to be warm,” he said.

Pope Francis went on to read from pre-written prayers honoring the sacrifices involved in constructing St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and noting that the holy vocations “will continue to build up the great edifice of God’s kingdom in this country.”

He spoke of sacrifice, grace and humility as he also addressed church sex abuse scandals and cautioned against temptation. He spoke of sacrifice, grace and humility.

He also had high praise for women, and thanked them for their commitment to God and the church.

Pope Francis received applause as he said, “I would especially like to thank the religious women of the United States… What would the church be without you, Women of strength?”

FULL TEXT: Pope Francis’ Homily At St. Patrick’s Cathedral

“It was like being in heaven — the music, the liturgy and seeing our Holy Father Pope Francis,” said Sister Mary of the Corpus Christi Monastery.

Dolan also addressed the pope, noting how many people had come to pray with him and for him. The pope addressed multiple dignitaries as he made his way out of the cathedral and back to the black Fiat.

Cuomo told CBS2 after the vespers service that Pope Francis had given a blessing to his girlfriend, Sandra Lee, who recently underwent cancer treatment. Cuomo said he also asked for a blessing for his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, who died on Jan. 1 of this year.

As Pope Francis departed the cathedral, the interior lights of the Fiat were on and Pope Francis was still in the back seat smiling and waving.

“I thought this was awesome,” Jordan, 7, of the Bronx told WCBS 880’s Jim Smith.

Jordan just celebrated her Holy Communion this year, making the quick encounter special. Her father, Joseph, was almost moved to tears watching his kids have their moment.

“Words can’t describe it — just the brief moment, just to be able to be here and say we got to see him,” he said.

At the end of the evening, Pope Francis headed to the papal nuncio residence on East 72nd Street for some much-needed rest. Hundreds of police officers surrounded the block as the pope turned in for the night, CBS2’s Jessica Schneider reported.

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