PHILADELPHIA: Pope Francis travels to Philadelphia on Saturday for the final leg of his wildly popular inaugural tour of the United States, to greet tens of thousands of Catholics at a family festival.
The pontiff will make the short flight from New York in the morning, touching down in Philadelphia at 9:30 a.m. before heading straight to mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul.
In the afternoon, he is due to address immigrants at the city’s historic Independence Hall before greeting huge crowds at the Festival of Families, a Catholic event that takes place every three years.
On Sunday, he will meet with American bishops, before visiting a prison and leading a farewell mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and flying out of the country in the evening.
The pope has received a rapturous reception in America, welcomed personally by President Barack Obama when he flew in Tuesday and electrifying giant crowds in Washington and New York.
His reform-minded approach to social issues, humility and focus on the most vulnerable has struck a chord across the racial and socioeconomic divide in a country increasingly questioning its place in the world.
New York treated the pontiff to a rock-star reception, shutting down the city in draconian security measures to allow him ease of movement.
A sea of 80,000 people screamed out in joy as he proceeded through Central Park by popemobile before celebrating mass at Madison Square Garden.
Around 20,000 people packed into New York’s premier concert venue and home of the Knicks basketball team, after Billy Joel, who was originally booked for Friday night, shifted his schedule.
Once again, the 78-year-old Argentine focused on society’s poorest, in a message voiced time and again in America’s financial capital, a city of staggering wealth but also deprivation.
He called on worshipers not to forget “the faces of all those people who don’t appear to belong, or are second-class citizens.”
“They are the foreigners, the children who go without schooling, those deprived of medical insurance, the homeless, the forgotten elderly,” the pope said.
At the city’s somber September 11 Memorial, he led a gathering of 700 in multi-faith prayers for world peace and paid tribute to the nearly 3,000 victims killed in the 2001 attacks.
Francis was welcomed in song and laughter on a heartwarming visit to a Catholic school in New York’s East Harlem neighborhood.
Beaming and relaxed, even submitting to a selfie or two, the pope seemed to come alive during the hour he spent with the children at Our Lady, Queen of Angels school, where he also met migrant workers.
It was a stark contrast to the austere surroundings of the UN General Assembly where he offered his vision of a better world.
Francis touched on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, the Iran nuclear deal, drug trafficking—”silently killing millions”—and the rights of girls to an education.
The first Latin American pope—who has seen his own country suffer economic crises— called on the UN Security Council and financial lenders to “limit every kind of abuse and usury.”
As he did at the US Congress, the pope gave a passionate plea to protect the environment, as he voiced confidence that a looming UN summit on climate change would reach “effective” agreement in Paris.
He also offered a strong endorsement of Iran’s agreement with the United States and five other world powers to limit its nuclear program—a deal vehemently opposed by many US lawmakers.