PHILADELPHIA — Pope Francis capped his U.S. trip with a final Mass in Philadelphia, where thousands of Catholics lined Benjamin Franklin Parkway to hear from the man known as “the People’s Pope.”
In his closing homily, Francis stressed the importance of “little gestures” that go a long way.
“They get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different,” Francis said. “They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children and siblings.”
Like a warm supper, a blessing before bed, a hug after a long day. These things, Francis said, are signs of tenderness, affection and compassion.
The outdoor Mass marked the close of the World Meeting of Families, a multiday event with as many as 150 nations represented.
Before boarding his plane back to Rome Sunday night, Francis said he was leaving with “a heart full of gratitude and hope.”
Ahead of the Mass, crowds waited to get a glimpse of the Pope during his open motorcade.
One minute, they were squealing like they were at a rock concert as the Pope passed by. Next, the pack of thousands fell silent and still, listening as his words floated through the air.
Some wore their Sunday best. Others were wrapped in Vatican flags or wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Pope’s picture.
People lined up at security checkpoints hours before the Mass began, chatting about their faith and their favorite sports teams.
Chants went up in one line when someone revealed that the Eagles were winning. Cries of E-A-G-L-E-S quickly shifted to F-R-A-N-C-I-S.
Inside the gates, frenzy was mounting over the Pope’s impending arrival. People lined up by the road with their arms outstretched, holding their smartphones as far in the air as they could in the hope of catching the perfect shot of Francis.
Bernadette Drew, 51, had been waiting for 35 years for this moment. She didn’t get picked for her high school class trip to see Pope John Paul II. She’s been dreaming of seeing a pope ever since.
On Sunday, she left home at 5:30 a.m. and took a bus ride with a church group from Elmira, New York, bringing her daughter along.
“My 12-year-old will be making her confirmation next year, and I wanted her to feel the Holy Spirit,” she said.
While her daughter crouched in front of the crowd to get the perfect video, Drew watched in disbelief as the robed figure she’d only seen on TV moved toward her.
She started sobbing as soon as she saw him — and kept crying long after he’d left.
“It’s so beautiful! It’s wonderful!” she shouted. “What a gift!”
“I’m overcome with love.”