PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) — Pope Francis’ first official act in the city of Philadelphia was to say Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul where he immediately called for the church to place greater value on women.

After his plane touched down at Philadelphia International Airport, the pontiff rode by motorcade to the downtown Cathedral Basilica and celebrated a Mass for about 1,600 people. In his homily, he said the future of the Catholic Church in the U.S. requires a much more active role for lay Catholics, especially women.

“It means valuing the immense contribution which women, lay and religious, have made and continue to make to the life of our communities,” the pope said.

READ:  Pope Francis’ Complete Homily

Pope Francis has repeatedly said women should have a greater role in church leadership, though he has rejected the idea of ordaining women.

His praise of nuns marked his second such public expression of gratitude in the U.S. after the Vatican under his leadership ended a crackdown on the main umbrella group of American sisters. Nuns in the cathedral appreciated the gesture.

“We have felt very strong support from him,” said Sister Catherine Darcy of Merion, Pennsylvania, one of about 50 members of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas at the Mass. “We feel he recognizes the contribution that religious (women) make to the church throughout the world.”

READ:  Complete Papal Visit 2015 Coverage

Pope Francis will be the star attraction at the World Meeting of Families, a conference for more than 18,000 people from around the world. The weekend lineup also included a Saturday night vigil and an outdoor Mass Sunday evening for 1 million people on the broad Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It will be the last major event of the pope’s U.S. visit.

PHOTOS:  Pope Francis Celebrates Mass At Cathedral Basilica

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