By Angela Cave, Catholic News Service     9/25/2015

NEW YORK (CNS) — As crowds waded through long security lines and watched pre-Mass entertainment at Madison Square Garden ahead of the pope’s Friday night Mass, worshippers told Catholic News Service it was hard to express their excitement.

Maria Castro, of St. Kateri in Newark, New Jersey, teared up outside a concession stand while waiting for Pope Francis’ arrival.

“We didn’t sleep last night,” said Castro, who immigrated to the U.S. from Puerto Rico as a teenager. “This is beautiful. I don’t have words to explain how I feel. With this pope, we feel that we’ve got so much love, so much compassion. He makes a lot of people come to the church.”

Like countless others, Castro likes “everything about him.

“He brings a lot of good things, like peace and love of the people,” she said. “This (Mass) is like a mission. We have to be more together.”

Enrica Saracino of St. Bernard’s Church in White Plains couldn’t believe it when she won tickets for her family. She brought her rosary to be blessed.

“We’re excited,” she said. “We know that this pope is the pope of the humble. It will be a wonderful experience — something that I can talk about to my grandchildren.”

Michele and Thomas Obdyke of St. Bernard’s Church in Brooklyn met Pope John Paul II on their honeymoon in 2000. Eight months later, Thomas was in the World Trade Center when it was attacked on 9/11. He hopes Pope Francis will protect him from harm, too.

“Just being in here is good enough — just to get his blessing,” he said.

Michele added, “it’s tremendous. We’re very privileged.”

Jacqueline Estavez of Our Lady of Mercy Parish in the Bronx was hoping the Mass would give her the strength to defend her faith and inspire others to practice it.

“I have a lot of people around me who don’t believe in God or they pray in their house (instead of going to church),” Estavez said. “I say, ‘No. God wants all of us to go to church.’ “I’m so excited to see him,” she continued. “It will change my world. His humility and the way he is with the poor and old people. The way that he speaks, the way he says things to the people. It makes you think.”

Estavez saw long lines of people outside the Garden and felt moved to give her extra ticket away to a stranger who just wanted to be near the pope.

Sarah Raville of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Albany — about two hours north of New York City — said she planned on treating the Mass “like a mini retreat.”

“The whole experience tests your endurance, patience and faith,” she said, “from the many miles traveled in the car, to waiting in the never-ending line to go through security, to the naysayers that passed us on the street, to the homeless people we pass.

“I’m here to be renewed not just by Pope Francis’ words but by participation in the Mass with other Roman Catholics. I am here to be with the body of Christ,” Raville added. “I am looking forward to it with great anticipation, gratitude and holy longing.”

Husband and wife Wanda and Efrain Ortiz of Sacred Heart Church in Staten Island got tickets through their association with the Schoenstatt Movement. They felt especially fortunate since they saw Pope John Paul three times.

“Having the opportunity again is such a huge blessing and beyond words,” Wanda said.

They know Pope Francis is something special.

“It’s his humility and how he wants to be a part of the people, not of the higher realm like the popes of the past,” Efrain said. “He wants to bring the message of Christ on a one to one basis. It’s like a new beginning with him.”

Wanda added, “He’s relatable. He’s bringing an awareness of the realities we’re facing. That our brothers and sisters suffer and we suffer with them.”

Efrain is in formation for the diaconate at St. Joseph’s Seminary. He says Pope Francis embraces clergy.

Wanda was hoping to get “what I hope to get out of every Mass, really,” she said. “Really take in the word of God. It’s historic, of course. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I didn’t have to go to Rome! The pope came to me!”