Last minute preparations for Pope Francis' visit were underway in an East Harlem school Wednesday. Students rehearsed the song, "St. Francis' Prayer for Peace," a nervous principal practiced her Spanish and another reminded herself the day is reserved for students.
"My family and friends are asking me to have the pope bless their rosaries but he will be far too busy. His time is precious and it is for the children," said Aleeya Francis, principal of St. Charles Borromeo in Harlem, whose students built dioramas called "Thank God for the Gifts of the Earth," depicting nature's bounty.
The principal of Our Lady Queen of Angels Elementary School, Joanne Walsh, practiced her greeting in Spanish. "I know it will be OK. It will come out naturally. The word is orgulloso. It means proud. I want to say that I am proud of my students."
Pope Francis will arrive at Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem about 4 p.m. on Friday after visiting the Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum. There he will meet with families who lost loved ones on Sept. 11, 2001, and participate in a multireligious service attended by about 700 people.
At Our Lady Queen of Angels, 24 third- and fourth-graders from area elementary Catholic schools will visit with Pope Francis in the gym and meet recent immigrants who are receiving aid from Catholic Charities.
LaSalle Duke-Sample, 9, a fourth-grader at St. Charles Borromeo, will show the pope his diorama -- a grassy meadow and crystal blue stream that is surrounded by trees and a farmer's fruit and vegetable stand.
"We are thanking God for the gifts of the Earth: water, trees that give us oxygen, animals that give us food. My favorite is the fruit," LaSalle said. He wants to ask the pope: "If you were not the pope what would be your job? I'm sure he would say he would work for charity."
On Wednesday, crews for the city's housing authority, which operates the Johnson Houses development next to the school, were mowing the grass and removing three trees that had rotted. Scaffolds that surrounded the building also were removed.
"I couldn't believe it when I walked out of my home. I thought I was on the wrong block," said Noangi Marte, 63, who has lived in the neighborhood for 43 years. "The pope should come more often to keep the neighborhood clean. The pope is giving the poor hope. He represents all of humanity and we want his blessings."