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LI Sister Pat Duffy: Pope Francis' White House speech was 'moving'

Michele DelMonte, left, and Sister Pat Duffy, both

Michele DelMonte, left, and Sister Pat Duffy, both of Mastic Beach, will witness history on the White House South Lawn Sept. 23, 2015.

At first, Sister Pat Duffy thought the invite was a capital hoax because she'd been telling everybody for a year that she wanted to see Pope Francis.

The White House email was no joke.

Wednesday morning, Duffy, part of the Dominican Sisters of Amityville, witnessed history on the South Lawn, one of some 11,000 ticketed guests who heard the first public remarks from the pope's first U.S. visit, along with welcoming words from President Barack Obama.

The Mastic Beach resident, 66, said her excitement for the event was validated Wednesday morning when she heard the pope's speech, in which he called on Americans to stop discrimination and make the environment a priority.

Duffy said she admired his serene presence, which seemed to affect those around her.

"He was so quiet and so simple. You had to listen to hear him," Duffy, said. "He spoke of our country, and the blessings of our country, and the responsibilities of our country."

"I was most moved by the fact that people became a community right away around the presence of this holy man," she added.

The audience was peaceful, yet exuberant when the pope appeared. The crowds didn't push -- at least that she saw -- when the gates opened at 5:30 a.m., and after the ceremony ended, she observed attendees picking up litter from the lawn.

She befriended a woman seated next to her. They talked about cameras and exchanged email addresses with a promise from the woman to send Duffy some of the pictures she took.

"It was moving," she said. "I'm very glad that we came."

The offer of South Lawn tickets came three weeks ago at the behest of a Farmingville resident who has attended the sister's community meetings for 10 years.

"She's such a humanitarian," said retired teacher Madeline Udod, recalling how she has helped new mothers so poor that they had to wash, dry and reuse disposable diapers.

In one meeting months ago, Duffy voiced her desire to see Pope Francis and Udod felt a need to make it happen.

"The next morning, I woke up and I had the feeling I should be writing to a variety of people to ask for a miracle," she said. "I was so driven to do this."

She wrote to Pope Francis, one of his archbishop friends, public officials and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

It was the springtime letter to the president and first lady that bore fruit: "It's a privilege to write to you about her because she is an exceptional individual . . . I pray that you may be able to arrange a miracle of a simple act of kindness."

Said Udod, "I did a simple thing and it exploded. It's so exciting."

In the White House invite for two, Duffy attended the official welcome with housemate Michele DelMonte, 66, a retired Suffolk County employee who's wheelchair-bound after a car accident.

Duffy believes she was meant to get the tickets.

Since the invite, the sister has met people with problems who want to be blessed by the pope -- and she brought them in her heart.

For example, she decided to buy another sun hat at a local yard sale last weekend.

When the woman running the sale learned the sister was going to see Francis, she told Duffy she wished the pope could see her grandson, who was in the hospital.

Duffy wrote the boy's name on the $1 hat.

"I said 'I'm going to take Joey with me,' " the sister recounted. "She started to cry . . . We bring people in our hearts. I bring him to what will turn into a very holy place because of his presence."

Duffy feels connected to the man dubbed "the people's pope" she calls "authentic." She admires him for changing the conversation in the Catholic Church to one of mercy and humility.

Duffy said she and the pope have both dedicated their lives to God and to the less fortunate in spirit, wealth and other ways -- she for 49 years and he for 46 years, starting in the barrios of Argentina.

"When I meet someone who's so deep and rich in that," Duffy said, "it completes my soul."

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