As the end of a memorable and historic visit with the neighboring people of the United States and Cuba, Pope Francis closed out the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia with Mass along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
It was the end of another full day for the pope, one that included a dialogue with victims of childhood abuse and their families, a visit with inmates at a Philadelphia correctional facility and an unscheduled detour to the Jesuit-run St. Joseph University, where he blessed a statue commemorating the 50th anniversary of “Nostra Aetate,” the Second Vatican Council Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions.
More than 300 students from 40 different Jesuit high schools had camped out at St. Joseph Prep for a chance to glimpse the pope. Thousands more had poured into Philadelphia for the same.
In Washington Pope Francis canonized a controversial saint, met with the powerful in Congress and the most vulnerable at a center for homeless people. He shared his vision of pastorally driven leadership with U.S. bishops.
In New York, he spoke before the United Nations and among school children in Harlem; at the newly restored St.Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue, he embraced America’s religious women and acknowledged the shame and pain of the U.S. church’s scandal of abuse. Pope Francis joined an inter-religious prayer for peace at the 9/11 memorial and museum, and he bumped Billy Joel from the schedule at Madison Square Garden, delivering a homily which moved millions around the world who watched the celebration live.
His choice of destinations was as symbolic as any of the other gestures which followed his return to the New World, uniting Cuba and the United States by air travel (and making news en route!) just as he had proved a uniter through Vatican-hosted discussions which helped defrost five decades of enmity between the two nations. In Cuba he brought Catholic Mass to the Plaza de la Revolución in Havana, visited with the brothers Castro, encouraged his priests and religious and everyday Cubans that change is possible and uplifted the island-nation’s young people, calling them signs of hope. He urged a revolution of tenderness and love in a place where other revolutions are better known.
Thousands who experienced the pope’s U.S. visit in person and millions more who watched it unfold on cable and other media were transfixed by this historic tour of east coast cities. They were—Catholic and non-Catholic alike, believers and nonbelievers—brought together by the pope’s humble, joyful presence and his simple reminder to president and city pedestrians alike, to reach out in mercy to each other and to the strangers among us, to remember the Golden Rule and to always, always, please, “pray for me.”