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Pope Francis 'to come face to face' with thousands on procession through Central Park, Mayor Bill de Blasio says

Sign painters work on a portrait of Pope

Sign painters work on a portrait of Pope Francis, right, on the side of a Manhattan building, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015. Credit: AP / Mark Lennihan

Pope Francis' visit to New York City will include a late-afternoon ride inside the iconic "popemobile" through Central Park -- a "historic procession" -- Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday.

The planned Sept. 25 motorcade through the park, first broached by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, "will give thousands of New Yorkers an opportunity to come face to face with Pope Francis," de Blasio said in a statement.

The mayor said putting Manhattan's storied gathering spot on Francis' brief two-day city stop will afford people an opportunity to get an up-close glimpse of the pontiff.

"We're proud to welcome one of the world's most powerful voices to our great city . . . and we are grateful to the archdiocese for their cooperation in giving even more New Yorkers a chance to join in this historic visit."

The Central Park procession will come at the end of an expected whirlwind papal visit to the city that will also include an address at the United Nations during its General Assembly and stops at a Roman Catholic grade school in East Harlem and the National September 11 Memorial. After the pope makes his way down West Drive in Central Park, from 72nd Street to 60th Street, he'll top off his city stay by celebrating an evening Mass at Madison Square Garden.

Francis will then move on for a two-day stop in Philadelphia to end his U.S. trip, which is scheduled to begin Sept. 22 in Washington, D.C. The pope is scheduled to visit Cuba between Sept. 19 and 22.

Tens of thousands of New Yorkers will be able to see the pope as he travels through the park, officials said. New York State residents can apply to receive two tickets to the procession in an online giveaway contest by visiting visit or calling 311 between tomorrow and Monday, de Blasio's office said.

Winners will be notified Sept. 10.

The pope's Central Park motorcade was sparked by Dolan as a way to bring the popular Francis closer to those who would otherwise miss catching a glimpse of the pontiff, said Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York.

"We've been looking for a way to maximize the opportunity for people to feel as if they participated in this visit of Pope Francis to New York, as well as give the pope an opportunity to at least get a better sense of the people of New York," Zwilling said.

Many locations on the pope's itinerary "while wonderful venues, are all going to be comparatively small venues, especially compared to previous papal visits," Zwilling said.

The goal is to "let as many people as possible at least feel like they've had a part in this visit," he said.

Francis' visit starts Sept. 24 with an afternoon landing at Kennedy Airport followed by a helicopter ride to the Wall Street heliport used by U.S. presidents and other noted public figures, Zwilling said.

The pope will then travel north toward midtown by car. He'll switch to the "popemobile" for a short motorcade down Fifth Avenue that ends at St. Patrick's Cathedral for a vespers prayer service, Zwilling said. That motorcade will likely be several blocks, starting somewhere in the 50s and going south to the cathedral at 51st Street, Zwilling said. Tickets also will be issued for that event, though details were not immediately available.

The next morning, Francis is scheduled to give an address at the United Nations before attending a multifaith service at the National September 11 Memorial. From there, his motorcade is expected to head north to East Harlem for a visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic School, Zwilling said.

He'll leave the school in the late afternoon for his ride through Central Park on his way to Madison Square Garden, the spokesman said.

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