By any yardstick, the first two legs of Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States emerged as an extraordinary series of indelible moments as the pontiff engaged in a whirlwind of activities, challenging and chiding the mighty and influential, comforting and embracing common citizens and young people and consistently underscoring the common responsibility of care for the marginalized, the forgotten and the environment.
From his arrival in Washington, D.C. Sept. 22 to his departure from New York four days later, Francis relentlessly practiced what he has consistently preached: engagement, encounter and inclusion.
Reminding members of the U.S. Congress—as the first pope ever to address a joint meeting of that body—that he, and they, were sons and daughters of immigrants, the pope called on the legislators to pursue “the common good” and told them that they were “called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens,” particularly the poorest and most vulnerable. He underscored that message by going directly from the Capitol to a luncheon hosted by Catholic Charities, where he met and blessed the homeless in attendance.
The day before, he celebrated a Mass of canonization for Blessed Junipero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception before a huge and enthusiastic crowd of worshipers gathered on the campus of Catholic University of America.
In his Friday address to the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, Francis was pointed in his remarks about the sanctity of the environment, and emphasized the need for economic and social justice, and the alleviation of global poverty and injustice. At Ground Zero, he met with family members of those who had died in the 9/11 attacks and joined with a group of clerics from many faith traditions to pray for peace at the site.
And, after a buoyant visit with children at Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem, he rode through Central Park to a wildly enthusiastic reception to Madison Square Garden, where he celebrated Mass before a crowd of 20,000.
And that was only the beginning. Francis left New York Saturday morning for a short flight to Philadelphia and the centerpiece event of his visit, the World Meeting of Families.
“Here, amid pain and grief, we also have a palpable sense of the heroic goodness which people are capable of, those hidden reserves of strength from which we can draw.”
—Pope Francis, speaking in New York at Ground Zero
“It must never be forgotten that political and economic activity is only effective when it is understood as a prudential activity, guided by a perennial concept of justice and constantly conscious of the fact that, above and beyond our plans and programs, we are dealing with real men and women who live, struggle and suffer, and are often forced to live in great poverty, deprived of all rights.”
—Pope Francis’ address to the United Nations General Assembly
“Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to other, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal solidarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.”
—Pope Francis, in his address to Congress