PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) — Pope Francis arrived in the City of Brotherly Love on Saturday for the final leg of his U.S. visit — a festive weekend devoted to celebrating Catholic families.
Shepherd One, the plane carrying the pontiff, touched down around 9:45 a.m. at Philadelphia International Airport.READ MORE: Sources: Missing Bucks County Woman Casey Johnston's Car Found In Northeast Philadelphia
The pope stepped off the plane at the airport onto the red carpet to a wave of cheers and applause, and was immediately welcomed by Archbishop Charles Chaput. Pope Francis was then greeted by former Philadelphia police officer Richard Bowes, who was shot and wounded in the line of duty, his wife, Bernadette and their three children. The family presented the pope with the state flower. Mayor Michael Nutter and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf were also on hand to welcome the Holy Father to the city. All of this while the Bishop Shanahan High School marching band performed the theme song to ‘Rocky.’
Then, in an unexpected and very touching moment, Pope Francis, on his way from the airport, stopped the Fiat he was being transported in, climbed out of the vehicle and blessed a child in a wheelchair on the tarmac.
From the airport, Francis rode by motorcade to the downtown Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul to celebrate a Mass for about 1,600 people, twice turning around to wave to the hundreds of cheering people standing outside the church.
After speeches to Congress and the United Nations earlier this week aimed at spurring world leaders toward bold action on immigration and the environment, the pope is expected to focus more heavily on ordinary Catholics during his two days in Philadelphia, where he will be the star attraction at the World Meeting of Families, a conference for more than 18,000 people from around the world.
On the first two legs of his six-day U.S. journey, in Washington and New York, Pope Francis was greeted by throngs of cheering, weeping well-wishers hoping for a glance or a touch from the wildly popular spiritual leader, despite unprecedented security.
The Philadelphia visit, months in the making, all but paralyzed Center City, with stretches of Broad and Market Streets and other routes closed to all but pedestrians and lined with metal crowd-control barricades, massive concrete blocks and tall fences.
“He has a magnetic personality that not only appeals to Catholics, but to the universal masses. He’s not scripted. He’s relatable. His heart, in itself, you can see that reflected through his message,” said Filipina Opena, 46, a Catholic from LaMirada, California, as tour groups and families walked among Philadelphia’s historic sites, taking pictures ahead of the pope’s visit. “People feel he’s sincere and he’s genuine. The more people hear him, the more they see him, they all understand and realize it.”
Late Saturday afternoon, Pope Francis delivered a speech at Independence Hall. The lectern he delivered his speech from is a treasured artifact from U.S. history, as Lincoln used it to deliver the Gettysburg Address.
As he has done in New York and Washington, he will give his attention to both the elite and the disadvantaged, this time visiting inmates in Philadelphia’s largest jail. On Saturday night, on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the cultural heart of the city, he will be serenaded by Aretha Franklin and other performers at a festival celebrating families, and will return there Sunday for the Mass, his last major event before leaving that night for Rome.
“It’s probably not politicians who will remember his message but the kids,” said Liza Stephens, 48, of Sacramento, California, who was in Philadelphia with her two daughters, ages 10 and 12. The trio spent time volunteering to bag food for Africa, among other activities at the family conference.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia organized the conference, hoping for a badly needed infusion of papal joy and enthusiasm amid shrinking membership, financial troubles and one of the worst clergy sex-abuse scandals to hit a U.S. diocese.1 Day, 8 Tornadoes: A Look At This Week's Severe Weather Across The Tri-State Area
The archdiocese has been the target of three grand jury investigations. The last grand jury accused the diocese in 2011, before Archbishop Chaput came to Philadelphia, of keeping on assignment more than three dozen priests facing serious abuse accusations, despite a 2002 pledge by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to oust any guilty clergy. The same grand jury indicted a priest who had overseen clergy for the archdiocese, Monsignor William Lynn. He was eventually convicted of child endangerment, becoming the first American church official convicted for failing to stop abusers.
The pope is widely expected to talk privately with abuse victims over this weekend, an event that church leaders said would not be announced until after it occurred.
The visit is also shaping up as one of the most interesting ecclesial pairings of the pope’s trip. His host will be Chaput, an outspoken opponent of abortion and gay marriage, who takes a harder line on church teaching in the archdiocese.
Chaput has said a local Catholic school run by nuns showed “character and common sense” by firing a teacher in June who married another woman. He recently wrote in the archdiocese newspaper that abortion is “a uniquely wicked act” that cannot be seen as one sin among many.
Three days ago, in an address to U.S. bishops laying out his vision for American Catholicism, Francis said attention should be paid to the “innocent victim of abortion” but listed the issue as one among many “essential” to the church’s mission, including caring for the elderly and the environment.
Chaput has rejected the idea that he is in conflict with the social justice-minded pope, calling it a narrative invented by the media, and pointing to the millions of dollars the archdiocese spends each year to aid the poor and sick. The pope will be staying at the seminary where Chaput also lives.
“Critics sometimes claim that America’s bishops talk too much about abortion and religious freedom while they overlook the poor,” Chaput said in recent remarks to reporters. “Of course we do talk about those issues. We work hard at those issues, and we’ll continue to do so — vigorously, and for as long as it takes. Because the right to life and religious liberty are foundational to human dignity.”
The pope is expected to talk about religious freedom at Independence Hall and is expected to bring his message of compassion, hope and strengthening the family to his appearances in the city. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics plan to hold separate events, including an event for gay parents and their children, on Saturday, as they advocate for broader acceptance in the church. Francis has famously said “Who am I to judge?” when asked about a supposedly gay priest, but has also affirmed church teaching on marriage.
Mary McGuiness, a religion professor at La Salle University, a Catholic school in Philadelphia, said she doesn’t anticipate a flood of local Catholics returning to Sunday Mass because of the pope’s visit. She said the archdiocese has been through too much with abuse scandals and parish closures. But she said the intense attention to his speeches here could inspire people to “begin to think more about what Catholicism really means.”
“I hope that will happen,” she said. “But I hear a lot of people say, ‘I like this pope, but I’m not going back.'”
Complete List of Papal Events:
Saturday, September 26
- 9:30 a.m. — Pope Francis arrives in Philadelphia
- 10:30 a.m. — Mass held at Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul
- 4:45 p.m. — Visits Independence Mall in Philadelphia
- 7:30 p.m. — Visits the Festival of Families
Sunday, September 27
- 9:15 a.m. — Meeting with bishops at St. Martin’s Chapel, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary
- 11 a.m. — Visits the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility
- 4 p.m. – Mass concludes World Meeting of Families on Benjamin Franklin Parkway
- 8 p.m. – Pope Francis departs for Rome
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