Bronx, NY—Once the Vatican announced the upcoming United States visit of Pope Francis would include New York City, many Bronx residents and public officials hoped the current Pope would follow in the footsteps of three of his predecessors by celebrating Mass at Yankee Stadium.
The history of religious figures appearing and religious events taking place at Yankee Stadium are not limited to the recent past or to the Catholic faith.
In May of 1927, four years after the Yankees played their first game at Yankee Stadium, there was a function of the Holy Name Society at which Cardinal Hayes addressed the gathering. Interestingly, a Catholic high school named for Hayes is now located only a few blocks from Yankee Stadium.
One year after Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, a United Jewish Appeal benefit that was headlined by notable performers George Burns & Gracie Allen and Jack Benny was held to benefit the oppressed German Jews.
In 1957, the Rev. Billy Graham, then in his 30’s, preached at Yankee Stadium during the era when he was becoming a very popular evangelist.
Less than two months after Graham’s appearance, Cardinal Spellman celebrated Mass at the ballpark.
The following year, 1958, the largest crowd in the history of the Stadium, 123,707, attended a convention of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Days after the close of the 1965 baseball season, Pope Paul VI, the first pope to visit the United States, celebrated Mass at Yankee Stadium although he was only in New York one day.
During America’s Bicentennial year, 1976, the Rev. Myung Moon sponsored a “God Bless America Festival” in the renovated ballpark.
On October 2, 1979, Pope John Paul II celebrated a Mass for World Justice and Peace.
In response to the horrific terrorist attacks upon the United States, a non-denominational “Prayer for America” was held 12 days after the September 11 attacks.
The most recent Pope, Benedict XVI, to visit Yankee Stadium offered a Solemn Pontifical Mass marking the Bicentennial of the Archdiocese of New York on April 20, 2008, the final year of the original Yankee Stadium.
One year later, almost to the day, the first non-baseball event in the newly constructed Yankee Stadium was held. The extremely popular Joel and Victoria Osteen drew a crowd of nearly 35,000 for a “Night of Hope.”
Five years later, the couple returned to Yankee Stadium for a sold-out and uplifting evening gathering.
As Pope Francis is scheduled to visit New York City in September and 2015 is the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s Mass at Yankee Stadium, Dr. Cary Goodman, the Executive Director of the 161st Street Business Improvement District (161 BID), recognized how appropriate it would be for Pope Francis to celebrate Mass at Yankee Stadium and tried to garner support of public figures to approve an invitation to the new pope, elected less than two years ago.
The highly knowledgeable and pro-active Goodman explained, “I knew there was a rich history of popes coming to Yankee Stadium. Thus, I wrote a letter to Cardinal Dolan making that suggestion. I checked with the Yankees who were favorable.” Goodman next emailed elected officials who have an ex-officio relationship with the 161 BID, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. and City Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson, whose district includes Yankee Stadium.
The above elected officials signed a newspaper ad, sponsored by the 161 BID, which includes the following words that certainly reflect the opinion of Goodman toward the iconic ballpark in his district, “A Mass at Yankee Stadium will help lift the spirits of our citizens and offer a vision of hope. Yankee Stadium is the Bronx’s great cathedral and the largest stadium in our city, a global icon befitting your ministry.”
Another reason that Pope Francis would be so appropriate a fit coming to Yankee Stadium is that he is the first pope born in the Americas, Buenos Aires in Argentina, and the majority of the Bronx’s residents are Latino. It should also be noted Pope Francis is 78 years of age and there is no guarantee that he will again travel to New York City.
U.S. Congressman Jose Serrano was the elected official and a signatory to the invitation that best understands the importance of a visit by Pope Francis to the Bronx. Serrano is a Latino who was born in Puerto Rico, a Roman Catholic, a true baseball and Yankees fan who does not attend Yankee Stadium for photo ops at ceremonies but to watch ballgames, and an experienced Congressman representing the people of the South Bronx since 1990.
The veteran Rep. commented, “We would be honored to host Pope Francis in the Bronx, the only borough in New York City with a majority Latino population that represents the diversity of our City and our nation. I hope his Holiness accepts our invitation to grace us with his presence and inspire us with his words. As the first Latin American Pope, his visit would be a historic and momentous occasion that would remain with us for generations to come.
Hopefully, with the support of the mayor and the approval of the Vatican, there will be another special day at Yankee Stadium in September.