Pope Francis celebrated Mass with hundreds of thousands in the streets of Philadelphia on Sunday, closing his historic six-day visit to the U.S., and many local people were there to celebrate with him.
The pope drew huge, enthusiastic crowds wherever he went. His visit to Philadelphia, the third leg of his U.S. trip, which also took him to New York and Washington, D.C. His trip to Philadelphia coincided with the World Meeting of Families. The pope used his final scheduled public appearance of the trip to connect faith with families.
About 30 people from the Highland area attended Sunday’s papal Mass. Many watched the Mass on Jumbotron about a mile from where the pope presided, but they were all personally touched by the pontiff’s visit.
Carol Henrichs of St. Paul Catholic Church in Highland was among the local residents who attended World Meetings of Families week-long event, which was held Sept. 22-28 in Philadelphia. She also joined the estimated 800,000 people who celebrated Sunday’s Mass in the streets of the City of Brotherly Love.
“This will be a story we will always tell our children and grandchildren about,” Henrichs said.
A number of the locals were only about 15 to 20 feet away from Pope Francis, while he was traveling in his “pope mobile” on Saturday when he was heading to the World of Families event.
Held every three years and sponsored by the Holy See’s Pontifical Council for the Family, the event is the world’s largest Catholic gathering of families. It was billed as a sort of Catholic variety show, with world-class performers from Aretha Franklin to Andrea Bocelli and even a stand-up comic. Nobody thought Pope Francis would be the one doing the improv.
The pontiff set aside a prepared — and politi cally contentious — text on the American family to preach, riff and joke to an audience of more than 100,000 people.
During Sunday’s Mass, the pope’s pastoral address ignored the culture wars and instead veered between piety, homespun advice, and laughs.
Denise Trickey of Immaculte Parish in Pierron celebrated the Mass with her 14-year-old son, Dennis. They took the pope’s message to heart.
“We need to love everybody,” Denise Trickey said.
St. Paul School Principal Kathy Sherman, who said she stood in a line six hours to attend the Mass, said she shared stories and laughs with strangers before and after the Mass.
“We even had a pretzel with them,” she said. “We prayed Our Father and shared Peace with others, moments of grace. (We) got through security just in time for the Pope’s final blessing. And I’m happy. I have been a disciple… and have been a part of an incredible experience.”
Earlier in the week, Sherman joined other local “pilgrims” who toured National Shrine of St. Katharine Drexel and the National Shrine of St. John Neumann. She also attended Mass with bishops, priests, and seminarians representing 100 countries.
During Sunday’s Mass, the pope reminded the audience, estimated at 2 million, that much like happiness, “holiness is always tied to little gestures.”
“These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different,” Francis said. “They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children. They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion.”
At the conclusion of the Mass, Pope Francis made one small personal request. “I ask you to pray for me,” Francis said. “Don’t forget!”
The Senate and House welcomed the pope in a joint session last Thursday. His speech to Congress was one of four he gave in English. He made a strong but nonspecific case for lawmakers to address climate change.
Speaking slowly, calmly, and clearly, Pope Francis declared: “I call for a courageous and responsible effort to redirect our steps, and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference — I’m sure. And 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.”
Congressman John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, said he was pleased with the pontiff’s message.
“His Holiness was very careful in his words to ensure that he caused no ill will between some of the divergent views in Congress. He reminded us that the United States is both an immigrant nation and a world leader,” he said.
“That unique position and power, as the Pope said, calls us to be compassionate and helpful. I think that’s a message we all need to hear and I’m glad he delivered it.”