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 CNS Story:

POPE-MCDONALD Apr-21-2008 (530 words) xxxn

Ronald McDonald House residents get unscripted moments with pope

By Benedicta Cipolla
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) -- In an unscheduled April 19 event, Pope Benedict XVI greeted about 40 disabled children and their family members from Ronald McDonald House in New York.

At about 8 p.m., chaplain Cherilyn Frei received a call from James Murtagh, the commanding officer of the New York Police Department's 19th Precinct saying that the pope wanted to greet neighborhood residents outside Archbishop Celestino Migliore's residence, where he was staying.

The precinct's jurisdiction includes Ronald McDonald House and the archbishop's residence, and officers helped provide security during Pope Benedict's April 18-20 New York visit.

"I ran down the halls, knocked on some doors and basically we threw them into vans and took off," Frei told Catholic News Service.

The group waited for 30 minutes before Pope Benedict emerged close to 9 p.m. The families, standing behind metal barricades set up outside the residence, held up their children to receive the pope's blessing. About 80 people from the neighborhood, including priests from St. Catherine of Siena Church, also attended.

"That's probably the one human being on earth that I believe is the closest to the Lord," said Charles Griffin, who met the pope with his wife, Sonia, their 5-year-old daughter, Faith, and 2-year-old son, Elijah, and his mother, Bernadette.

Faith suffers from a brainstem glioma, an inoperable tumor that affects her speech, balance and sight. The Griffins, who are from Weston, Fla., stay at Ronald McDonald House for weeks at a time when Faith undergoes treatment at New York University Medical Center.

Ronald McDonald Houses, located all over the country, provide temporary housing for a nominal fee to pediatric cancer patients and their families who come in from out of town for treatment. The New York house, in Manhattan, can accommodate 83 families and, according to officials with the facility, it is filled to capacity almost every night.

"It speaks volumes to the kind of pope he is," said Charles Griffin, who is Lutheran. His wife is Catholic. "My understanding is he gave the police department some troubles in the sense that he kind of went wherever he wanted to. He didn't care (about security). He came here to see people and to pray."

Griffin said Faith reciprocated Pope Benedict's blessing. "She loves touching people's foreheads and going like this," he said, making the sign of the cross.

Two children from the house were among 56 disabled youths who participated in an officially scheduled meeting with the pope earlier in the day in the chapel at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers.

Officers from the 19th Precinct have been involved with Ronald McDonald House for several years as part of their community outreach program and had hoped to get some of the children to see Pope Benedict.

"The pope's people said he wanted to come outside to address the neighborhood, and so we called Ronald McDonald House and anyone else we could think of that could get there in half an hour," said Officer Liam Lynch.

All who attended said they appreciated the last-minute, unscripted moment. "We're nobody special or famous, and here we were inches away from the pope," said Frei.


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