Everyone and everything from singers and priests to the cathedral itself in the New York archdiocese are making final preparations for the Pope's next stop during his first papal trip to the U.S. “I'm ecstatic,” Msgr. Robert T. Ritchie, rector of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, told CNA. “He generates so much charism, his way of talking with people, his way of approaching the world and the various problems we deal with is very engaging.” Msgr. Ritchie said that the Pope's first stop in New York City will be an evening prayer service at the cathedral — in some ways a very average service for a busy and unique city. “The Pope is doing something that is not extraordinary, but quite ordinary, but it will be done in an extraordinary way,” he said. “What we’re going to be doing Thursday night is the evening prayer of the Church, which is basically the same anywhere in the world.” The evening prayer, also called “Vespers” is an integral part of the Church’s liturgical life. “Vespers is prayed by all of the priests, all deacons, many religious orders, some sisters, some brothers,” Msgr. Ritchie explained. “It is prayed as a pious activity by many laypeople, who join their personal prayer with that of the Church. It is a liturgical act, even if it’s done just by the priest in private, because it is a part of the liturgy of the Church.” The service, he said, consists of psalms, readings of the scriptures. The papal vespers on Thursday will also feature a homily given by Pope Francis. “What we will be doing is a part of the daily life of the Church and sharing that with other people.” The vespers service will also contain musical settings for the psalms, and hymns, sung by the Cathedral’s Choir and orchestral players. “We’ve been planning this actually since February of this year,” Dr. Jennifer Pascual, Director of Music at St. Patrick’s Cathedral told CNA. “We’re starting off with a prelude concert of entirely sacred music,” she said, adding that the music for the prelude and vespers services will include “a whole repertoire from Palestrina of the Classical Baroque through the Romantic through living composers of today.” The Cathedral’s choir and other choirs from New York City will also provide the music for the Pope’s Mass at Madison Square Garden on Friday Sept. 25. Mass parts for the Eucharistic prayer will all be said in Latin, at the request of the Vatican. The choir will also sing “Pescador de hombres,” “which I understand is the Pope’s favorite hymn,” at the Mass, added Dr. Pascual, with a full orchestral arrangement. Liturgies and music are not the only things being prepared for Pope Francis’ visit: the 136-year-old building of St. Patrick’s Cathedral itself is also receiving its own final touches before Thursday’s Vespers. The renovation process started the nine years ago when parts of the facade of the historic St. Patrick’s Cathedral began to fall down. Reconstruction “began in earnest,” Msgr. Ritchie said, in 2012. “We were ready to finish in December of this year, then all of a sudden we began to hear rumors that the Pope might be coming to New York.” Msgr. Ritchie and other members of the Cathedral staff sat down with builders and architects, he said, “and we looked at schedules and said it is possible” to finish the renovations by the Pope’s visit. “We put in some more effort and we worked some weekends and people bent over backwards to make sure the work is done.”
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