Whatever your religion, Pope Francis’s visit to the U.S. was an exciting moment in history. In Washington and New York, Pope Francis challenged us to think about our values, to welcome immigrants, to take care of our environment, and to reach out to those who are poor or vulnerable. In Philadelphia, Pope Francis spoke about immigration and religious tolerance, and celebrated mass with hundreds of thousands in the center of the city.
Pope Francis in the U.S.
Pope Francis recently visited Philadelphia, Washington, and New York. During his visit, Pope Francis challenged all of us, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, to think deeply about what we value and how we translate those values into action.
In New York, Pope Francis conducted Mass in Madison Square Garden. He spoke about the cultural wealth of big cities and challenged us to care for the vulnerable. According to Pope Francis, big cities remind us “of the hidden riches present in our world: in the diversity of its cultures, traditions . . . languages, costumes and cuisine. Big cities bring together all the different ways [we] express the meaning of life” but “also conceal the faces of all those people who don’t appear to belong, or are second-class citizens,” “the foreigners, the children who go without schooling, those deprived of medical insurance, the homeless, the forgotten elderly.”
At the United Nations in New York, Pope Francis spoke about the environment and the impact of climate change on the world’s poorest people. “[T]hey are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing ‘culture of waste.'”
Pope Francis, born in South America to Italian immigrants, reminded the U.S. Congress in Washington that the U.S. is a nation of immigrants: “[w]e, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners.”
Pope Francis in Philadelphia
In Philadelphia, Pope Francis spoke at Independence Hall, where Americans signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The Pope used the same podium Abraham Lincoln used for the Gettysburg Address. President Lincoln was one of the inspirational Americans singled out by Pope Francis in his speech to Congress.
At Independence Hall, Pope Francis spoke about immigration and religious freedom, and emphasized the importance of remembering history. He said: “We remember the great struggles which led to the abolition of slavery, the extension of voting rights, the growth of the labor movement, and the gradual effort to eliminate every kind of racism and prejudice directed at successive waves of new Americans.” On Sunday, he celebrated an open air mass with hundreds of thousands on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Here’s what you need to know if you are going to the Pope’s Philadelphia events.
Pope Francis Visits Homeless, Children, Prisoners
Pope Francis’s message of inclusion was communicated not only in what he said but in how he chose to spend his time. In Washington, Pope Francis opted out of lunch with Congress members and instead served lunch to homeless people. In New York, Pope Francis visited elementary school children. In Philadelphia, Pope Francis visited inmates in a Philadelphia jail. He told inmates that “The Lord goes in search of us; to all of us he stretches out a helping hand. It is painful when we see prison systems which are not concerned to care for wounds, to soothe pain, to offer new possibilities.” He urged prisoners to use the time in jail to “getting back on the right road” and preparing to reenter society.
Joy of Car-less Philadelphia Streets During Pope Francis Visit
Security was tight in Philadelphia during the Pope Francis visit. Cars were forbidden for a 5-mile area in Center City. An unexpected pleasure of the visit was the joy of walking for hours downtown with only other pedestrians, bike riders, and skateboarders. Many walkers were foreign visitors or immigrants, speaking their own languages and wearing brightly colored clothes from their countries. People were friendly and polite. Some waiting in security lines even spontaneously started singing.
At the 40 jumbotrons Philadelphia put up around Center City to broadcast performances and speeches from the papal stages, hundreds of people gathered silently to watch together, sometimes sitting in the middle of a normally traffic-clogged street. Whatever the legacy of the Pope Francis visit to the U.S., a joyful memory for me is the unexpected pleasure of wandering with thousands of friendly locals and visitors in a car-free Center City Philadelphia.