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NewsNew YorkPope Francis Visit

To get to St. Patrick's on time, the train is faster than the plane

Pope Francis kisses the cross at the entrance

Pope Francis kisses the cross at the entrance to St. Patrick's Cathedral Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, in Manhattan. Credit: Pool / Daily News / Robert Sabo

It isn't easy keeping up with the pope.

He's 78 with one damaged lung, but his schedule is grueling.

Sometimes the Vatican press corps accompanying him on his Cuba and U.S. trip have to scramble to keep up with him.

Thursday, in order to catch all three of his events, some of us had to take a train to New York from Washington, D.C., instead of going on the pope's plane. It was the only way to make the evening prayers he attended at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan.

The day started, as always, early. Between 5:30 and 5:40 a.m., the press corps picked up embargoed copies of the pope's speeches for the day in the hotel room of one of his press aides.

Then, in the hotel lobby at precisely 6:45 a.m., there was roll call: The aide called out the names of each person scheduled to attend the pope's historic address to Congress. The roll call is militarylike in nature -- the aide calls out last names, and if you don't show up and answer quickly, you may not be going.

Then we headed outside and left our bags on the sidewalk for the Secret Service to check for weapons or explosives. We lined up single file, most dressed in dark, formal clothing -- as the Vatican prefers -- and boarded a bus.

By 8 a.m. we were at Congress, and two hours later watched from the press gallery as Pope Francis walked into the chamber to thunderous applause.

Those of us also attending his event with the homeless at St. Patrick's Church a mile or so away had to leave the speech early to get to the church -- and past all the security checkpoints -- on time. Our bus had a police escort.

It turned out the pope was a little late for the church himself, so we had to leave that event a little early to make the train for New York.

We could not go on his plane because there would not be enough helicopters to ferry us into Manhattan once he got to Kennedy Airport. So a small number of reporters who went on the train made it to the vespers at the cathedral. The rest who went on the plane did not -- they got stuck in rush-hour traffic after leaving Kennedy.

One thing that helped us: The airplane took our suitcases to New York and, as they do during all papal trips, Vatican workers delivered the bags right to our hotel rooms.

Now that the pope is traveling in the United States, he has switched airlines: no more Alitalia, the Italian airline. Now he is flying American Airlines and will take it for the rest of the trip all the way back to Rome on Sunday night.

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