Easy-going soccer fan: Seeing Pope Francis through a child's eye

Nine-year-old Nicholas Marronaro routinely starts his day while it's still dark out, not that he complains about it. His parents, Ivy and Dominick, know how much he loves his school, Our Lady Queen of Angels in East Harlem, so the family's two-hour commute from their home in Southwestern Brooklyn is generally characterized by a positivity most people are not capable of before dawn. On a recent midweek morning, this positivity was particularly pronounced as the family walked hand in hand toward the 20th Street subway station.

"I can't wait to hear everything - all the excitement!" said Ivy Marronaro.

Morronaro was referring to the buzz surrounding Pope Francis' visit to New York, and more specifically to her son's school. Nicholas is one of six lucky students from Our Lady Queen of Angels school -- and one of 24 students from four Catholic schools in total -- who will greet the pope when he pays Harlem a visit Friday prior to his Mass at Madison Square Garden.

"I think he's gonna be like an easy person to talk to," said Nicholas. "'Cause I also learned that he was the first one [pope] to pose for a selfie, so I think he's gonna be fun and easy to talk to."

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The Morronaro family discuss the pope ahead of his visit to New York.
Ines Novacic / CBS News

As part of the school's preparation to host the Holy See, third and fourth graders who will meet the pope have been getting a crash course in his personal history.

"This is a book that the principal gave me," said Nicholas, flicking through pages of a National Geographic Kids magazine on Pope Francis. "I know he used to collect stamps as a kid. ... And I learned that he's the first non-European pope in 1,200 years!"

The principal of Our Lady Queen of Angels, Joanne Walsh, described how she was getting more nervous as the moment for his arrival approached: "We're sort of a speck in this big world, and to think that Pope Francis is coming here ... I think it's still beyond my comprehension. I don't think it's going to crystallize until the day he arrives."

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Students at Our Lady Queen of Angels at morning assembly.
Ines Novacic / CBS News

She added that it wasn't just the school that was reverberating with excitement: "[I'm getting] hugs on the street corners as if I'm representing them, and the school is representing them," said Walsh.

"We're going to sing a song for him - St. Francis' song - when he steps into the room," explained Ngueubou Kamwa, a classmate of Nicholas, who is also going to meet the pope.

"It starts with: 'Make me a channel of your peace -- and when there's injury, let me bring you lo-ove," she sang. Seated beside her on the brown leather couch in their Harlem apartment, Ngueubou's parents beamed from ear to ear.

"This is amazing, this is a blessing - we are very proud," said her father, Jean-Pierre Kamwa, who moved to the United States with his wife more than a decade ago from Cameroon.

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Ngeubue Kamwa and her parents at their home in Harlem.
Ines Novacic / CBS News

Both families told CBS News that, to them, the pope's visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels was proof of his commitment to working-class communities like theirs. East Harlem has a high concentration of poverty, and a large immigrant population which is majority Hispanic.

"One thing is to talk about how you want to help, and how education helps children better themselves," said Dominick Marronaro, who is Italian. His wife is Puerto Rican.

"But this is actually doing it ... to actually walk into a classroom and have 24 kids hand him projects ... that show how to help the environment, how to help other people," Marronaro said.

"Like Nick said, he seems like a down-to-earth, regular - and I don't wanna use the word 'guy'- but-- regular guy."

Pope Francis' accessibility is something that has resonated with students at Our Lady Queen of Angels.

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Alison Reyes Gonzalez says the pope's grandmother taught him how to pray.
Ines Novacic / CBS News

"He likes going to church because his grandma Rosa taught him how to pray!" said third-grader Alison Reyes Gonzalez, another student greeting Pope Francis Friday.

"He actually has a favorite soccer team," said Nicholas. "Which is the Argentina team."

"My favorite fun fact about the pope is that he took a selfie," said Ngueubou.

Her two younger brothers agreed that the pope's love of soccer, and how he "likes to play soccer," were their favorite things about him.