Nicholas Marraeno is a 9-year-old with great admiration for Pope Francis' strength and endurance -- and he may get a chance to tell the pontiff that face-to-face next month.
"Living with one lung tells you that he is strong and can withstand a lot of stuff -- like people asking him questions all the time and traveling around the world," Nicholas, who is entering fourth grade at Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem, said Thursday of the pontiff. "It's pretty incredible."
Francis, 78, who had a lung removed as a teenager because of an infection, is scheduled to meet with students from four Catholic elementary schools on Sept. 25 when he visits Our Lady Queen of Angels during his trip to New York City.
Nicholas, an aspiring FBI agent from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, is among that group of 24 children, several of whom were gathered at the school for a preview event organized by the Archdiocese of New York.
Emely Rodriguez, 8, a third-grader at St. Paul's School in East Harlem, said she wants to ask the pope about the charity work he does, how many televisions he has and what programs he watches.
"I also heard that he gave away hundreds of sleeping bags to charity and that he even gave away his motorcycle," Emely said.
Timothy McNiff, superintendent of schools for the archdiocese, said the third- and fourth-graders selected for the event participated in a lottery to win a spot to meet, speak and pray with the pope.
Hundreds more Catholic schoolchildren, from the elementary through high school level, will be outside Our Lady Queen of Angels on that Friday afternoon to greet Francis. The pope is scheduled to arrive at the school -- at 229 E. 112th St., between Second and Third avenues -- at 4 p.m.
"We selected students who would be comfortable and be able to represent the school and be articulate," McNiff said. "We wanted students who could look the pope in the eye."
He said he hopes the pontiff's visit will highlight the successes of a Catholic school education and the opportunity the schools provide in inner-city neighborhoods as a "doorway out of poverty."
Sixty schools in the archdiocese have been closed since 2011 because of fiscal hardships. McNiff said a new funding strategy has parishes donating a portion of Sunday collections to schools, and a new leadership structure has prevented further closings.
Having enough resources to provide scholarships to impoverished students continues to be a challenge, he said.
Noah Rodriguez of the Bronx, 8 and a fourth-grader at the nearby St. Ann School on East 110th Street, said he and classmates will plant flower beds around the school and in the neighborhood to welcome the pope.
"We want to show off our school to make everyone know that our school is great and that we feel blessed that the pope is coming," Noah said.
At St. Charles Borromeo School in central Harlem, where 27 percent of the 238 students enrolled are Catholic, principal Aleeya Francis said students learn to respect and build understanding for each other's religions, including those who are Muslim and Baptist.
Essa Nahshal, 7, whose family is from Yemen and are Muslim, said of his thoughts about meeting the pope, "I want to ask him many questions. I believe he is genuine."