On an altar on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, with a backdrop of the iconic Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pope Francis spoke about faith, holiness and acts of generosity in his final public appearance in the U.S.
“Love is shown by little things,” he said. “Faith grows when it is practiced and shaped by love.”
He said the importance of little signs of compassion like a warm supper, saying a blessing before bed or a hug after a hard day’s work can get lost in day-to-day activities.
“These are little gestures that we learn at home, learn in the family,” he said.
The homily came after a joyful motorcade down the Parkway during which Pope Francis reached out to many babies and children in the crowd to bless them.
Pope Francis added just the presence of all those on the Parkway was “a kind of miracle in today’s world.”
During the Mass, the Parkway and beyond were full of Catholics and non-Catholics alike, many of whom knelt in prayer on curbs and the ground.
“Just to feel what love really is, harmony, peace, you just can’t describe it,” said Abner Garzon of Newark, N.J., who arrived at church at 6:30 a.m. to make the trek to Philadelphia with fellow parishoners.
Five-hundred thousand communion wafers had been prepared for the occasion by nuns in Bucks County. The wafers were distributed by 1,500 priests and deacons throughout who lined up carrying yellow and white umbrellas to mark their location.
Various parts of the Mass were conducted in different languages — English, Latin, Chinese, Vietnamese and Spanish — an indication of the makeup of those present and of the church at-large.
Reports from security checkpoints around the Parkway indicate many people had difficulty getting through long lines in time for the Mass. Many who were discouraged watched instead on Jumbotrons.
There’s no immediate estimate available for how many flocked to Philadelphia for the papal Mass. Guesses are ranging from 250,000 to over one million.
Many worried throughout the weekend that the city of Philadelphia’s security precautions scared off potential pilgrims. Hotels were not as booked as expected and train ridership into the city was less busy than expected.
Still, many present were thankful to be in the presence of Pope Francis.
“Philadelphia has a very big heart, and it is filled today with gratitude,” said Archbishop Charles Chaput after the conclusion of the Mass.