Locals and tourists alike crowded New York City streets from one end to another for a chance to see Pope Francis in person. While many were drawn to him as the leader of the Catholic Church, others were attracted by his superstar persona and strong social media presence. He currently has 7.5 million Twitter followers and has been a huge staple of many websites and online apps that typically feature funny videos, the latest jokes and celebrity gossip. His messages seem to resonate with people regardless of their religious beliefs and he is able to share his positivity with anyone willing to listen.
Boussad Chaouane, 26, from Brooklyn, was selling $20 pope dolls in the Flatiron district the day Pope Francis arrived in New York. Chaouane is Islamic but said, “It’s not about religion, it’s about business. He’s a celebrity figure and people want to buy things with him on it.” Taj Kelly, 33, from Harlem, spent the week selling Pope Francis buttons and t-shirts around the city and credited the high demand to social media. “All the attention he is getting is not just about him being relevant in the news and the church – it is about him being a pop culture trend,” said Kelly as he set up his memorabilia on an outdoor folding table. “A lot of young people know who he is and think he’s cool because they see his face all over Facebook and Twitter.”
The pope is not a symbol of faith for Jen Glazer, 22, who was raised Jewish, yet she still finds him to be influential. She describes Pope Francis as “an international celebrity” and she travelled from South Plainfield, NJ to join in the celebrations outside Central Park. “I like to participate in big events when someone famous is in town because it brings excitement to the city,” said Glazer as she leaned against the railing of the barricades holding back the crowd. “He has a good message of peace so not only is it fun to come and see him but it gives young people a chance to be involved.”
Taryn Lane, 28, a Catholic from Dix Hills, NY, also went to see Pope Francis outside Central Park and believes that he is not just a trend that will pass with time. “He’s progressive, which is why he’s popular with young people. I think he genuinely gives people hope,” Fusco said. “It’s a good thing that some people see him as a celebrity icon because he is widening the messages of the church.”
Linda Lasorsa, 35, a Catholic who lives on Staten Island, didn’t come to Central Park seeking the pope out but decided to stay when she saw the motorcade barriers before getting on the bus home. His celebrity was an attraction, she said, “I think that a lot of people who aren’t Catholic and even people who aren’t religious at all still want to participate because he’s such a famous figure.”
Published in NYU Magazine 10/8/15