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40,000 win chance to see pope in Central Park

Tina Salaks in Central Park in Manhattan on

Tina Salaks in Central Park in Manhattan on Sept. 16, 2015. Salaks is one of the 80,000 New York State residents who will attend Pope Francis' historic procession through Central Park. Credit: Charles Eckert

A chance to win tickets to Pope Francis' procession through Central Park next week is a chance to witness history for Tina Salaks.

"It'll be a high energy. As soon as people come into the park, they're going to feel it," said Salaks, a tour guide who works in the park but expects to see it through new eyes on Sept. 25. "This is going to be a day unlike any other."

Salaks, 53, of Washington Heights, is one of about 40,000 winners of a lottery for state residents held by Mayor Bill de Blasio's office.

"The overwhelming response we received from New Yorkers throughout the state made clear: Pope Francis is one of the world's most important voices, and his historic visit to New York City will be an unforgettable experience," de Blasio said in a statement, adding that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York helped City Hall to add the procession so more everyday New Yorkers could glimpse the pontiff.

More than 93,000 people entered the lottery for the Central Park portion of Francis' brief visit, which also includes evening prayers at St. Patrick's Cathedral, remarks at the United Nations General Assembly and a multifaith service at the Sept. 11 memorial and Museum.

Winners scored two free tickets to view the pope as he makes his way through Central Park en route to a Mass at Madison Square Garden.

Salaks said she is not a practicing Catholic but sees Francis as "a pope for the people," whatever their faith.

Daria D'Andrea, a Long Beach decorator, said she was born and raised Catholic but has become "more embracing of the church" since Francis became pope.

"In the short time that he's been there, he has impressed me beyond measure," said D'Andrea, 49. "His forgiveness and humility, his acceptance of divorce, homosexuality and abortion, his non-judgment. He's an amazing, amazing man and just what Catholics need right now."

D'Andrea, who will bring her husband, Nick, as her guest, said Francis is leading the church in embracing change as it must if it expects to thrive.

Cristal Munoz, 25, of Brooklyn's Canarsie neighborhood, said she was "super excited" when she received an email notifying her that she had won tickets to the papal procession.

She also cited the pope's "positive views" on homosexuality. "He's made a lot of changes. He's bringing everybody together," said Munoz, who will take her brother, Rene.

By chance, her mother, Margarita Vargas, also won a pair of tickets and will bring Munoz's sister, Lorena -- making the day a family affair.

Salaks said she believes Francis will come away from New York with a good impression.

"There's just something about this city that I think is just going to fill him with joy and wonder," she said, "and give him a bigger smile than the one he already carries with him. "

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