The Pope is here! His Holiness Pope Francis, or Pope Frank as I call him (not to be confused with his predecessor, Pope Benny), has been in the United States for the past few days, traveling to Washington D.C., New York City, and Philadelphia. His trip to the US has been getting so much media coverage that nearly no one knows that the President of China, Xi Jinping, has also been in the United States, with the President holding a state dinner for him on Thursday, September 24th. The Pope has drawn a huge mass of supporters and admirers, both Catholics and non-Catholics alike, bringing about what I like to call ‘Frankophilia’. So it’s no surprise that this particular pontiff has been the inspiration of some art in honor of his visit.
Pope Francis has already visited Washington D.C., but it was New York City where he encountered a grandiose image. Van Hecht-Nielson is a muralist from Colorado and a devout Catholic, who worked on a portrait of Pope Francis over a period of ten days. Now, the Pope waves from the side of a building at Eighth Avenue and 34th Street in Manhattan, overlooking Madison Square Garden, where the Pope will hold mass tonight at 6:00 PM ET. Hecht-Nielsen has been painting advertisements on that side of the building for years, most recently covering it with a Cadillac advertisement. He was commissioned to create the painting, probably the largest representation of Pope Francis to date, by the Diocese of Brooklyn.
But the Pope will probably find the more magnificent pieces in Philadelphia. The centerpiece of these pieces is a mural located at the St. Malachy School, entitled The Sacred Now: Faith and Family in the 21st Century. Pope Francis plans to visit the mural while in Philadelphia on Sunday during his mass with the World Meeting of Families. The mural will be completed by November. But Pope Francis also has the honor of joining the many faces that grace the wall of a Philadelphia landmark called Dirty Frank’s. It’s a bar. Not exactly the most pontifical of places. But the mural covering the exterior walls of Dirty Frank’s are famous for the many portraits of famous people named Frank, Franklin, and Francis. Accompanying the Pope on the wall will be Franklin D. Roosevelt, St. Francis of Assisi, Aretha Franklin, Frank Zappa, Benjamin Franklin, and Frank Sinatra.