NEW YORK: Pope Francis proceeded down New York’s Fifth Avenue cheered by thousands in a rock-star welcome on the second leg of his US tour Thursday after making an historic address to Congress.
His 36-hour stay in America’s largest city, its financial capital and melting pot of immigrants home to 8.4 million, all under security lockdown, is the fourth papal visit in 50 years.
Ditching his modest Fiat for the Popemobile, the 78-year-old waved and smiled to the crowds of thousands, who lined the street of luxury boutiques to catch a glimpse of the pontiff.
He was greeted by dignitaries at St Patrick’s Cathedral, where he will lead evening prayers for around 2,500, mostly clergy and dignitaries, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, a progressive Democrat who has praised Francis for his focus on poverty.
Among the well-wishers outside the cathedral were some who arrived before dawn in the hope of catching a glimpse of the pope, admired by more than 70 percent of New Yorkers.
Dolores Prebo, a young mother from Ecuador who lives in Queens, said she snagged her spot at 1 am with her 20-month-old son.
But neither the long wait nor having her view obscured by a giant fence, were enough to daunt her. “I am very happy,” she told Agence France-Presse. “It is very important. This is our pope.”
Even Donald Trump, the billionaire leading the Republican race for president who has inflamed the country with his derogatory remarks about illegal immigrants, was spotted on a balcony of his luxury Trump Tower to survey the scene below.
To address UN
On Friday the head of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics will address the United Nations before leading an inter-faith service at the 9/11 Memorial and visiting a Catholic school in Harlem.
Later, he will parade past 80,000 cheering faithful in Central Park before celebrating mass at Madison Square Garden, where 20,000 people are expected to attend.
Earlier on Thursday, Francis became the first pope to address a joint meeting of the US Senate and the House of Representatives, where he was greeted by applause and a standing ovation.
He used the speech to urge American lawmakers, riven by bitter disunity, to do more to help the poor, suffering migrants around the world, fight climate change and abolish capital punishment.
He spoke in heavily accented English in a wide-ranging speech interrupted often by applause from his American hosts as he touched on social, financial and humanitarian issues.
He addressed the biggest refugee crisis since World War II, the relentless flow into Europe of Africans, Afghans and people from the Middle East, mainly Syrians fleeing war and poverty.
He also spoke of the plight of poor Central Americans who make dangerous, often deadly treks across the Mexican border into the United States, into places like California and Arizona.
“We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation,” he said. “To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal.”
The Republican-controlled Congress has failed to approve a sweeping reform outlined by President Barack Obama that would have helped give legal status to an estimated 11 million undocumented migrants, mostly Latinos, living in the States.
Many Republicans say the first priority should be securing the US border.
On climate change, the pope alluded to his recent encyclical in which he denounced global warming as a woe caused by mankind. Here, lawmakers gave him another strong round of applause.
“I have no doubt that the United States — and this Congress — have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies,” the pope said.
A major global climate conference is scheduled for December in Paris. The goal — after previous gatherings saw polluters like the US, Brazil and China fail to reach agreement — is to strike a deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming.
On other issues, the pope called for a worldwide end to the death penalty — the US is one of the few countries that still practice it — and denounced the arms trade as being fueled by hunger for “money that is drenched in blood.”
The pope also expressed concern over the fate of families, which he said are threatened like never before.
In particular, young people facing economic despair and other problems are discouraged from having kids, and others are so rich that starting a family is a distraction, he said.
He wraps up his six-day trip Saturday and Sunday in Philadelphia at an international festival of Catholic families.