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 on Sept. 27 with a Mass along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway that was attended by hundreds of thousands.
It had been another full day for the pope, one that included a conversation 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’s University, where he blessed a statue commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s “Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions.”
In Washington Pope Francis canonized a controversial saint, Franciscan Junípero Serra, and met with the nation’s most powerful in Congress and its most vulnerable at a center for homeless people. He also 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 Fifth Avenue, he embraced America’s religious women. Pope Francis joined in an interreligious prayer for peace at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, and he bumped Billy Joel from the schedule at Madison Square Garden, delivering a homily that moved millions around the world, who watched the celebration live.
His choice of destinations on this 10th excursion from Rome was as symbolic as any of the other gestures that followed his return to the New World, uniting Cuba and the United States by air travel just as he had proved a uniter through Vatican-hosted discussions that helped defrost five decades of enmity between the two nations.
Thousands who experienced the pope’s U.S. visit in person and millions more who watched it unfold on television and other media were transfixed by this historic tour of three major East Coast cities. They were—Catholic and non-Catholic, 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 one another and to the strangers among us, to remember the Golden Rule and to always, always, “Please pray for me.”