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Pope wraps up US tour with giant open-air mass

28 september 2015, 16:16
0
Pope Francis acknowledges faithful as he parades on his way to celebrate Mass. ©AFP
Pope Francis acknowledges faithful as he parades on his way to celebrate Mass. ©AFP

Pope Francis celebrated a giant outdoor mass in Philadelphia on Sunday, bringing to a close an electrifying US tour with an appeal for unity and family love, having met victims of church sex abuse, AFP reports.

He arrived at the open-air service after an extended tour by popemobile, greeting the up to 1.5 million people expected to throng the streets of Philadelphia to catch a glimpse of the popular pontiff.

Babies and disabled children were handed over to security agents to be hoisted up for a kiss from the head of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics before being passed back to overjoyed parents.

"Our common house can no longer tolerate sterile divisions," said the 78-year-old Argentine pontiff during the homily in Spanish.

"The urgent challenge of protecting our home includes the effort to bring the entire human family together in the pursuit of a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change."

Catholics from across the world, around America and members of the wider public poured onto the Benjamin Franklin Parkway for the mass, led by the pope outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

"It's a once in a lifetime opportunity," said Julian, who travelled from the northeastern state of Rhode Island. "It's something I can tell my kids one day, my grandkids and just enjoy the moment."

A gentle rain began to fall as celebrants waited to receive communion. Nuns held up white and yellow Vatican umbrellas to provide some shelter.

Manuel Portillo, 54, a Guatemalan immigrant who has lived in Philadelphia for 22 years, said he had never seen such enthusiasm in the city.

    God weeps 

"I followed every step of the pope's visit and I think he made fantastic remarks on Cuba and immigration," he said.

The mass, at which the pope also gave a Syrian family a copy of the gospel and funds collected from donations, capped an exhausting but exhilarating maiden visit to the United States by the 266th pope. 

Francis arrived from Cuba, where he urged the country to continue down the path of reconciliation.

Fresh from helping broker dialogue between Havana and Washington, which led to the resumption of diplomatic ties, Francis was welcomed personally by President Barack Obama at the airport and then at the White House.

At every step of the way -- in Washington, New York and Philadelphia -- he has been greeted by cheering crowds of Catholic faithful and those drawn to his message and his humility.

The rare criticism Francis had elicited during his six days in the United States had clung on the omission -- from his public agenda at least -- of a meeting with victims of pedophile priests.

The Vatican said he met privately St. Charles Borromeo Seminary with three women and two men who were sexually abused as children by members of the clergy, family members or teachers.

"God weeps," the pope told a gathering of bishops afterward.

"I remain overwhelmed with shame that men entrusted with the tender care of children violated these little ones and caused grievous harm. I am profoundly sorry," Francis said.

"I pledge the zealous vigilance of the church to protect children and the promise of accountability for all."

   Prison visit 

He then visited the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, the largest prison in Philadelphia, shaking hands and offering kind words to around 100 carefully selected inmates.

In a country that has the largest prison population in the world, the pope told inmates from a podium that their time of incarceration could have only one purpose: rehabilitation and paving their return to society.

"All of us are invited to encourage, help your rehabilitation," he said, before walking down the lines of seated inmates dressed in blue prison scrubs, shaking their hands and offering private words of comfort.

In America, the pope has been perhaps most constant and firm on immigration, a hugely divisive topic in the nascent 2016 election campaign.

The son of Italian immigrants, he has repeatedly reminded Americans of their immigrant roots and the values of the nation's founding fathers.

In a historic address to Congress, he called on politicians to take responsibility for crafting a fairer economic system, confront global warming, restrict the arms trade and abolish the death penalty.

He also defended the traditional family in an off-script speech laden with jokes and lapped up by the faithful on Saturday.

"Families quarrel and sometimes plates can fly and children bring headaches, and I won't speak about mothers-in-law," he said.

"But those difficulties are overcome with love," he added -- words of wisdom woven with a common touch that has endeared him to an audience beyond the Catholic church.


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