By Tina Susman
If any place in New York City deserves a blessing, it is the sliver of East Harlem that Pope Francis will visit.
On a hot summer’s day, rat poison signs were posted in the soil outside one of two housing projects that flank Francis’ destination, Our Lady Queen of Angels School. Police officers, presumably there to help plan the security surrounding the papal visit, huddled in a courtyard of one of the tall, brick apartment buildings.
Remnants of dog walkers who failed to scoop dotted the sidewalk on one end of the block, which is far from the splendor of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the hushed reverence of the 9/11 Memorial — a sun-baked contrast to leafy Central Park.
Those places are also on the pope’s itinerary, but Francis chose to come to the Harlem school on Sept. 25 in large part because its student body — largely immigrant and underprivileged — reflects the population he sees as most deserving of attention and assistance. It sits at the heart of the predominantly Latino and black neighborhood and is an appropriate setting for a pontiff who has spoken movingly about poverty and immigration and warned about the corrosive effects of capitalism.
It is an area that has been overlooked by or spared — depending on your point of view — the gentrification that has rampaged across much of Harlem.