It was a squeaker. For too many years, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, languished under obtrusive scaffolding and view-obliterating panels as part of its much-needed and long put-off restoration. Now, practically overnight, the scaffolding and panels have disappeared.
It is whispered that the contractors were given a holy ultimatum: 1) Be-Ready-for-the-Pope or 2) Never-Work-for-the-Archdiocese-Ever-Ever-Again.
They took the former over the later.
Finally, after three excruciatingly long years, the Cathedral is brand-spanking new again. It looks at least as good as it did when it was built in AD 1879. The marble and limestone is all shiny, the metal is scintillating and the statuary is statuesque once again.
St. Patrick’s, one of America’s most well-known churches, is finally ready for a visit from Pope Francis. After all, no one wants the honored guest to see the wear-and-tear of our homes. Doubly so when the honored guest is the Pope and the house is the House of God.
The project was announced on St. Patrick’s Day, 2012 and started practically immediately afterwards. It could hardly be said to have fallen into ruin but the project was herculean nonetheless. Despite the extensive nature of the restoration work, the Cathedral remained open to the public the entire time. 14,000 people a day (5 million visitors a year) visited either as communicants or as looky-loos but, either way, they were welcome.
In addition to the ubiquitous scaffolding in its interior, scaffolding also blanketed the exterior of the Cathedral, even to the very tippy-top of its twin 330-foot-tall spires. No sane and sober person would ever claim New York City was clean and tidy and the Cathedral was no exception. Dirt had accumulated in every one of its Gothic nooks and crannies for the past 136 years rinsed only by the occasional rainstorm.
As part of the restoration, workers cleaned and repaired the 3,700 individual panels in its 75 stained glass windows. In addition, specialized artisans repaired the 9,200-pound bronze great doors at the Cathedral’s Fifth Avenue entrance. The restoration cost the archdiocese and its faithful more than $175 million but, considering that the Pope is coming soon, the money was well-spent. This pope celebrates Mass at some of the most magnificent edifices Rome has to offer so the Archdiocese really needs to step up. After all, this is New York City and not some pagan backwater.
When Pope Francis gets here tomorrow for Evening Prayer, everyone here hopes he’ll be impressed including the Cathedral’s Rector, Mgr. Robert T. Ritchie, who said: “For my part, I see the Papal Visit as a chance of the Holy Father to see the face of the American people. The nation and especially St. Patrick’s Cathedral both have their roots in the immigrant experience…in the great immigration of European peoples, New York especially became a place of welcome. The welcome was not always warm. When St. Patrick’s was built, it was to be a declaration to all that the Catholic Immigrant people were here to stay and the warmth of St. Patrick’s is something that has continued since 1879. We welcomed the Irish, Italian, German, Eastern European immigrants. In recent decades, we open our arms to the Latino immigrants of the New World and so many fleeing from the ravages of war in Asia, Europe and Africa. Having Pope Francis here is the capstone of the welcome we have been giving to all who come here.”
And there you have it. A building built by European immigrants who were rich in their faith who now, in turn, reach out to welcome others who come to worship the Lord of All.
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