1 of 4 © Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
In an outsize city known for its brash self-confidence, tens of thousands of its residents prepared on Friday to celebrate a man who is known for his humility.
Pope Francis, on his first visit to New York City, will use his position as the leader of a 2,000-year-old institution with 1.2 billion followers to push for global change even as he seeks to present himself as a simple man who is in touch with the crowds that will line the streets to cheer his every move.
His tour of the city will take him from the ornate halls of the United Nations, where he is expected to urge the world’s leaders to act on behalf of the planet’s poor and neglected, to the streets of East Harlem, where he will offer a more personal pastoral touch.
From the moment Francis’ plane touched down at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Thursday evening, crowds gathered to cheer and wave or simply take in the spectacle. As the pope made his way along Fifth Avenue, standing in the back of his specially outfitted popemobile, thousands pressed against barricades, cameras and smartphones held high in hopes of capturing the moment.
“He’s coming!” yelled Jeshani Guevara, 39, dragging her 4-year-old with her 12-year-old close behind as she ran up Fifth Avenue.
It was a false alarm. The first of many. But their enthusiasm was undimmed.
Even after darkness fell, thousands still lined the streets as the pope left the cathedral and headed to the Vatican Mission to the United Nations on the Upper East Side, where he is staying.
Pat Wojcik, 63, who came from Denver, was among those waiting along the barricades outside the residence. “I’ve got to be blessed by this pope,” she said. “That’s what I’m on a mission for.”
She has a ticket for the procession in Central Park but she came on Thursday evening hoping to beat the crowds. “I was blessed by the Polish pope back in ’93 when he was in Denver for World Youth Day,” Ms. Wojcik said. “Now I hope to feel it again. I haven’t felt it since then.”
Francis has often spoken about the dangers of unbridled capitalism, and throughout his tour of Manhattan, he will be confronted by the often head-snapping extremes of wealth and poverty that can be found across New York.
When Francis enters Central Park on Friday evening, some 80,000 adoring fans will have waited hours to catch a glimpse of the man after having secured tickets in a city-sponsored lottery.
Around the park, residents in the towers of privilege, where the price of an apartment has topped $100 million, can take in the show from high in the sky.
The pope will shake hands with the leaders of the city, but he will also find time to visit with schoolchildren and laborers.
At a time when the national political discussion about immigration can sound harsh and unforgiving, Francis will travel to East Harlem and meet with immigrant workers struggling to scrape by on meager wages and little sense of security.
He will also visit perhaps the most sacred site in the city, though one not affiliated with any church.
At ground zero, the pope will attend a nondenominational prayer service with the victims and survivors of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
He will end his day celebrating Mass with 20,000 faithful at Madison Square Garden.
Everywhere he goes, streets will be closed and security will be overwhelming. There will probably be very little chance for him to escape the bubble of protection that will blanket his every move.
This is the fifth visit to New York by a pope, but officials said the security procedures put in place this time were much different. Some of the changes are a result of technological advances.
In 1965, when Pope Paul VI became the first Vicar of Christ to visit New York, the police used gray wooden sawhorses to line the papal route through the city’s streets.
This week, the Secret Service announced a ban on so-called selfie sticks, used by people to snap pictures of themselves with their smartphones.
While some of the security measures will be obvious, others will be hidden, including snipers patrolling the rooftops and undercover officers mingling in the crowd.
Everyone allowed into the screened areas will be screened by a magnetometer.
Since Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elevated to the papacy in 2013, he has chafed at the confines of his office and has often broken with protocol and tradition.
For instance, he chose to shun the fancy papal slippers for his old black shoes.
He has also shown a desire to interact with people directly, to be human.
Police Commissioner William J. Bratton noted the challenges this week.
“It’s really changing day to day in terms of what he would like to do and what he wants to do,” Mr. Bratton said. “I’m loading up on the Excedrin.”