Pope Francis capped his first day in Philadelphia amid an adoring crowd on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, music from multi-Grammy Award winning artists and hardly any logistical problems.
“The family is the living symbol of the loving plan of which the Father once dreamed,” he said to an overflowing crowd outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Center City.
The leader of 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide capped off the Festival of Families celebration with a poignant speech on the value of the family unit, delicately pleasing progressives with a timeless call to love and serve the poorest among us, while uplifting conservatives with a clear focus on the traditional family.
“We cannot call any society healthy when it does not leave real room for family life,” he said. Despite a continued emphasis on the traditional coupling of a wife and husband, Francis did not draw any controversy with his broad, optimistic affirmation of familial love.
“Let us be families which are a support for other families,” he said.
After flying from New York in the morning, Francis delivered a homily at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, where he emphasized the value of women and laypeople in the church, drawing many nuns in the crowd to tears. He praised the initiative of St. Katharine Drexel, a Philadelphia native that was challenged by Pope Leo XIII to do more for her church.
“What about you?” Francis said, in a challenge to the crowd of mostly devout Catholics, priests and seminarians.
Hours later at Independence Mall, thousands of faithfuls strained for a view as he strode down Market Street in a black Fiat car.
The popular pontiff was showered with praise, kissing at least three babies before his arrival at Independence Hall, where he spoke about immigration and religious toleration.
“You should never be ashamed of your traditions,” Francis said to the heavily Latin-American crowd, drawing widespread applause.
The faithful came from across the globe, with the lucky group of 10,000 ticketed guests and media personnel set up closer to Independence Hall. Hundreds of other pilgrims watched the pope’s address on a large screen across Market Street and next to the federal courthouse.
Nicholas Fullard, a senior at Georgetown Preparatory High School in North Bethesda, Md., received tickets to the Independence Hall speech by participating in Love in Action, a leadership program at his school. He applauded the pope’s focus on immigration and his tone of compromise and compassion in a political environment of divisiveness.
“It’s really cool to see how he brings love, not just into politics, but social issues like immigration,” he said.
Fullard is sleeping in a classroom in St. Joseph’s Preparatory School in North Philadelphia, along with other members of his school that trekked down to Philly to see the pope.
At the evening festival, emcee Mark Wahlberg introduced a string of A-list stars, including comedian Jim Gaffigan, Italian classical singer Andrea Bocelli, R&B legend Aretha Franklin and Colombian recording star Juanes.
Francis watched the performances from a throne atop the Parkway stage, sitting casually with his head leaned to the side. Late in the evening, he jokingly asked the person next to him what time mass would be celebrated the next day, drawing chuckles from the crowd.
Despite worry from local pundits that the city’s comprehensive security measures would be overkill, walking to different events across the city went smoothly. The only snafu came after Francis’s Independence Hall speech, where the intersection of 5th and Market streets became a virtual standstill for people figuring out how to navigate the roadblocks to travel across town to the Parkway.
Major streets were eerily devoid of life for most of the afternoon, pilgrims crossing over Broad Street with no cars in sight.
The 78-year-old pontiff will end his first ever trip to America after an event-filled day tomorrow that will culminate in a public mass on the Parkway.
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