Pope celebrates Mass on the Parkway

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Attendees arrive prior to the mass for the conclusion of the World Meeting of Families on Benjamin Franklin Parkway September 27, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Pope Francis will end his six-day visit to the U.S. after the event. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Pope Francis concluded his first visit to the United States Sunday by celebrating a Mass rich with pomp and music for countless thousands filling the Parkway.

With hymns, liturgical chants in Latin and readings in different languages, pilgrims from Philadelphia and around the world joined together in an expression of faith that gives meaning to the word communion.

In his homily, Francis, his face showing a measure of weariness after 10 days of travel, called for an openness to others, saying Jesus and Moses "both rebuke those closest to them for being so narrow."

The pope, speaking in Spanish, said openness is taught within families by simple acts of love that "make us feel at home."

"Jesus tells us not to hold back these little miracles," he said.

A 500-member choir, the Philadelphia Orchestra and congregants themselves provided the music that, along with liturgical chants, gave the service its spiritual uplift.

Before the Mass began, cheers and shouts of "Viva Francisco" greeted the pope as he paraded on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, making a stops to kiss babies and to bless the grotto dedicated to Mary the Undoer of Knots that the faithful had constructed outside the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.

Untold numbers of people were still waiting to clear security to get onto the parkway while the papal parade was underway.

Many of those who got in waited for hours to make their way along lines that stretched for blocks from the security checkpoints.

In an apparent effort to draw people from the Parkway entrances closer to the altar, the city sent out an alert saying more than 40 Jumbotrons are set up in "Francis Festival grounds," which includes Independence Mall, for viewing the Mass.

Before going to the Parkway, the Jesuit pope paid an unannounced visit to St. Joseph's University, Philadelphia's Jesuit school of higher learning where he was cheered by hundreds.

Earlier, Pope Francis met with five sex abuse victims and vowed in front of bishops gathered at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary that he would hold accountable those responsible.

The meeting withe the victims took place at the Wynnewood seminary before Francis delivered his warning to the bishops in unprepared remarks.

The pope has met with sex abuse victims once before at the Vatican but doing so in Philadelphia has particular resonance since two city grand juries have accused the Archdiocese under previous leadership of protecting priests accused of abuse.

"Words cannot fully express my sorrow for the abuse you suffered," Francis told the three female and two male victims he met along with their families.

He also said he was "deeply sorry for the times when you or your family spoke out to report abuse but you were not heard" and for some bishops failing to protect them, according to a translation of his remarks provided the Vatican.

The Vatican said not all five of the victims were abused by members of the clergy - some had been victimized by family members or educators. The pope also prayed with them and heard their stories.

Victims' groups had complained earlier in the week that Francis had neglected to address their plight when he congratulated bishops for their "courageous" and generous response to the scandal.

Marci Hamilton, a lawyer representing abuse victims, said the pope still had not done enough.

"These are welcome words, but his secret meeting undermines them," she said. ""American survivors are tired of secrecy."

Speaking to the bishops, Francis praised the victims as "true heralds of mercy." The pope has declared the liturgical year beginning in December as the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

He told the bishops he would "zealously" protect young people and see that "all those responsible are held accountable."

The pope has agreed to create a new Vatican tribunal to prosecute bishops who fail to protect their flock by covering up for sex abuse by priests.

In his prepared remarks to the bishop, Francis said it was their duty to support and promote families, the focus of last weeks World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

The pope later traveled by helicopter to a city jail - Curran-Fromhold Correction Center - to meet with some inmates and their families.

"Life means 'getting our feet dirty' from the dust - filled roads of life and history," Francis told them, after recounting how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper. "All of us need to be cleansed, to be washed."

"This time in your life can only have one purpose: to give you a hand in getting back on the right road, to give you a hand to help you rejoin society," the pope said.

After speaking to them, Francis walked up to them and shook their hands one by one as they remained seated.

Francis will fly home tonight, ending his 10 day trio to Cuba and the United States. Vice President Biden will be at Philadelphia International Airport to see him off.


This story is based on reporting by the combined staffs of the Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com