Pope Francis descended from an American Airlines 777 dubbed Shepard One this morning to the theme of Rocky.
After stepping off the plane to enthusiastic applause, Pope Francis stopped to talk with the family of Richard Bowes — a Philadelphia cop shot on duty in 2008. His partner was killed at that time.
The Bishop Shanahan High School marching band was on standby all morning waiting to play for the pontiff as he descended off the plane.
Grace Wilbe of the band said it was “surreal.”
He stepped into his now-iconic Fiat but hopped out a few moments later to greet Michael Keating, the son of Bishop Shanahan marching band music director Chuck Keating. Michael Keating has cerebral palsy. Pope Francis placed his hands on Michael and exchanged words with the Keating family.
“It was unbelievable,” said Kristin Keating, Michael’s mother. “Michael has had some struggles throughout his life. The fact that the pope kissed him on the head and blessed him is something I would have never imagined for any of my children. I feel very fortunate and blessed.”
Also waiting to greet the pontiff was a group of dignitaries and church officials including Archbishop Charles Chaput, Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter Bishop John McIntyre, Robert Ciaruffoli, president of the World Meeting of Families, Donna Crilley Farrell, executive director of WMF and Fr. William Donovan, among others.
Pope Francis then to Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul where he celebrated Mass with 1,600 ticket-holders.
At the Basilica
Pope Francis began his homily at the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Spanish with story about the construction of the Basilica’s walls.
“This morning I learned something about the history of this beautiful Cathedral: the story behind its high walls and windows. I would like to think, though, that the history of the Church in this city and state is really a story not about building walls, but about breaking them down,” the pontiff said, a nod to toward the Catholic church’s need to welcome more into its fold.
The pope told the story of Philadelphia’s St. Katherine Drexel, who was asked by Pope Leo XIII “What about you? What are you going to do?” suggesting a greater role for laity in the work of the church.
The pope turned that question, What about you” to the assembled faithful. And he asked of young people, “Do we make space for them and help them to do their part?”
This Mass as a whole, and the Pope’s homily, were pointedly directed to and about women with many references to St. Mary and women religious. The Mass itself was dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Francis calls for “creativity in adapting to changed situations… not primarily by maintaining our structures and institutions.”
“We know that the future of the church will call … for a much more active participation on the part of the laity,” he said, citing in particular the gifts women bring to the church.
The pontiff’s remarks on women religious come during a contentious time for sisters and the Vatican.
At St. Charles Borromeo
The seminarians at St. Charles Borromeo lined the steps to greet the pope and his entourage in song. A police cavalcade arrived at the seminary to the cheers of the young theologians.
At about 12:39 p.m., Francis stepped out of his car to shouts of “El Papa!” He will spend the afternoon resting at the seminary before coming back to Center City Philadelphia for a speech on Independence Mall and the Festival of Families on the Parkway.
The mood was festive and collegial. The pontiff smiled broadly and shook hands as the seminarians sang to him in Latin as if they were greeting a hero. Shortly thereafter, they broke out in a rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
The pope entered the great hall of the seminary with bishops and cardinals, and the seminarians continued cheers.