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Pontiff arrives at St. Patrick's cathedral after motorcade in lower Manhattan

Pope Francis is greeted by Cardinal Timothy Dolan

Pope Francis is greeted by Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio as he arrives at Kennedy Airport in Queens on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

They began gathering in the morning for a moment that would not come until sunset: a brief, frenzied, and, in most cases, obstructed glimpse of Pope Francis.

Suddenly, he was there. The crowd screamed. They reached out their hands, jumping up and down and straining to see him, their cellphones clicking away. Many chanted the Holy Father's name: "Francis. Francis."

The pontiff took it all in with a smile as he rolled down Fifth Avenue, waving to his fans from his popemobile -- a white Jeep Wrangler fitted with a bulletproof glass.

And then he was gone.

Camilo Trujillo of Fort Lee, New Jersey, called it "a once-in-a-lifetime experience that happened in seven seconds."

"He gave us his blessing. He looked right at us," Trujillo said. "It was amazing."

Different from his procession through the streets of Washington, D.C., Tuesday, there were no babies brought over to be blessed or little girls to be hugged during his short Manhattan parade.

But through a thick shield of security, the "people's pope" sent his blessings, and the occasional thumbs up, to the tens of thousands of excited followers.

"I can feel the chills running through my body. His presence is invigorating," said Belinda Ramos, 45, of lower Manhattan. "It was complete enlightenment"

Francis' followers began lining up in the pre-dawn hours along 51st Street between Sixth and Fifth avenues to be checked by Secret Service and Transportation Security Administration personnel ahead of the parade.

The event all but shut down Manhattan, with numerous streets closed and worshippers gathering by the thousands behind steel barricades hoping for a view of the beloved Catholic leader, and maybe a photo.

"Midtown is electric today," said Marc Silag, 62, of Norwalk, Connecticut, who had been following Francis' messages.

"I think he's got some great thoughts in his head," Silag said. "Maybe he is the one person that can help change the world, because we need somebody who can do that."

Upon arriving at St. Patrick's, Francis was greeted by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio. He spent several moments with each, shaking hands, chatting, and laughing.

Inside he walked up the aisle as choral music soared and clergy and politicians surrounded him. Francis appeared to say, "Precioso" -- or "precious" -- as he took it all in.

The pope was able to connect more personally with New York faithful at Kennedy Airport, where he arrived from Washington, D.C..

He stepped off the Boeing 777 dubbed "Shepherd One" to a red carpet ceremony and the Xavierian High School Band's rendition of Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York."

The pontiff was greeted by New York Catholic leaders and a group of schoolchildren who gifted him with a book. Francis immediately began flipping through it.

Enveloped by followers waving Vatican City flags, the pontiff took the time to personally greet as many of them as possible. He accepted their gifts, including flowers and a doll with his likeness, which he held up.

Then, he was whisked away in a Marine helicopter bound for lower Manhattan.

Theresa Kempf, 52, of Nesconset, likened the meeting to a "prayer circle."

"He said, 'Pray for me,' " Kempf said. "He's so humble. He just connects with everyone."

Anna Ambrosino, 89, who lives in the Ozanam Hall Nursing Home in Bayside, Queens, and has seen four popes in person, but was no less excited about her tarmac encounter.

"He was standing right there," Ambrosino said excitedly. "I kissed his hand, his ring, and uttered 'His holiness, God bless you . . . He said that we should pray for him."

Other Catholic worshippers from various parishes, nursing home residents, and various other followers -- including those who are disabled and homeless -- were among the estimated 200-member welcoming party, according to a Brooklyn Diocese spokeswoman.

Among those who waited anxiously at the JFK tarmac was Sister Bernadette Izzo, of the Sisters of St. Dominic Motherhouse Complex in Amityville. She was "just thrilled."

"It's a blessing from God," Sister Izzo said. "I love our Holy Father. I love our church. I'm very honored to be here."

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