Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims gathered in the heart of Philadelphia to watch as Pope Francis culminates his historic visit to the United States by celebrating Mass and talking once again about the importance of the family — the theme of the World Meeting of Families event that brought him to the country for the first time.
Francis used the Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in downtown Philadelphia to stress tolerance, patience and the acceptance of others.
"To raise doubts about the working of the Spirit, to give the impression that it cannot take place in those who are not 'part of our group,' who are not 'like us,' is a dangerous temptation," he said in a homily. "Not only does it block conversion to the faith; it is a perversion of faith."
According to an "unofficial estimate" by people working the event, a crowd of 860,000 started making its way to security lines early in the day for a chance to get to see His Holiness up close. Even more watched on about 40 large TV screens that were set up in the city. Most of those screens were located about 25 blocks away from the Mass location.
Francis told the pilgrims that "our common house can no longer tolerate sterile divisions."
On family, he said love is shown by small daily signs which make people feel at home, and that faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love.
"That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches," he said. "They are the right place for faith to become life, and life to become faith."
He added: "Anyone who wants to bring into this world a family which teaches children to be excited by every gesture aimed at overcoming evil -- a family which shows that the Spirit is alive and at work -- will encounter our gratitude and our appreciation. Whatever the family, people, region, or religion to which they belong."
Toward the end of his homily, he asked the audience a simple question.
"In my own home, do we shout? Or do we speak to each other in love and tenderness? That is a good way of measuring our love."
At the end of the Mass, Francis had one final message to those in attendance.
"Thank you very much for your participation and your love for the family," he said in English. "And I ask you to pray for me. Don't forget."
The Mass ends Francis' whirlwind six-day U.S. trip in which he has visited the White House, addressed a joint session of Congress, participated in a multi-religious service at Ground Zero, addressed world leaders at the United Nation's General Assembly and met privately with victims of clergy sex abuse at a seminary just outside of Philadelphia. The pontiff, who is known as the people's pope for his outward display of humility, also met with the homeless at a shelter and inmates at a jail.
The City of Brotherly Love opened its doors this weekend not only for Francis (Archbishop Charles Chaput even joked about renaming the city "Francisville"), but to the thousands of people who arrived in the city to catch a glimpse of him at one of his many city-wide events.
Among those in attendance at the final Mass was 61-year-old Junior Isaac, who arrived in Philadelphia without tickets.
"I wanted to be part of history," said Isaac, who was wearing a U.S. Army hat. "I came all the way from Rhode Island without tickets. Within two hours I had four. I think God is a miracle and a feast.”
Latonya Williams, a childcare provider from Philadelphia, attended the event with her three children.
“I think he’s the best," Williams said of Francis. "I love his humble spirit. I wasn’t that interested in the other popes, and I’m not Catholic."
A Grand Arrival
The "Popemobile," a white Jeep Wrangler, began carrying Francis toward the alter at about 3:15 p.m. to the roars of scores of people lining the streets of Philly. His motorcade stopped briefly to view the "Knotted Grotto," a public art installation at the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul.
The Grotto is a place anyone can go, write their intentions down, and tie them onto one side of the courtyard fence to be "undone" by another person. People leaving intentions tie their own and then untie someone else's to move it to the other side in homage to Francis' favorite image of the Blessed Mother as Mary Undoer of Knots.
Some 500 students from the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, boarded buses Saturday night for their pilgrimage to the World Meeting of Families event.
The students, part of the university's campus ministry group, arrived in Philadelphia around 7 a.m.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Nicole Steiner, 19, a sophomore originally from Massachusetts. "It's cool we're able to see him in our own country. He's an inspiring figure."
The students will board buses back to Notre Dame Sunday night.
Courtney Morin, 19, also a sophomore, said she's excited to be part of something so big.
"He's such a huge figure in the world," said Morin, who is from Indiana. "For me, it's being part of a moment when so many things can happen."
The two young woman and several other students from Notre Dame stopped to pose for a photo at Philly's iconic LOVE sculpture before heading to the Parkway to find a spot to watch the Mass. They have tickets to get into the closer areas, they said.
Students from Notre Dame have been following the pope's movement throughout his historic visit to the United States.
"We had papal pancakes Thursday to watch his address to Congress," Morin said.
A flock of Father Thien Nguyen's pilgrims donned bright yellow shirts and waited eagerly in front of a Jumbotron outside Philadelphia's City Hall on Sunday morning.
Nguyen said the group of about 150 people from the Vietnamese Catholic community in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Canada traveled to Philly for Francis' public Mass. Nguyen heard confession from a woman as many of his older pilgrims hunked down by the bigscreen to watch the Mass.
"This group decided to stay here near the screen, food and bathrooms because they're older," Nguyen explained. "One group had tickets and went all the way up (the Parkway)."
Nguyen said the Vietnamese faithful love the pope because of his care for the poor and the way he "represents Christ in the world."
The group celebrated a Vietnamese Mass Sunday morning before the papal service later, he said.
"We pray the pope will continue to be a great leader," Nguyen said. "We love the pope."
After the Mass the Pope will travel back to Rome. His exit also means the World Meeting of Families ends. It was announced at the Mass that the next chapter in the religious event will take place in Dublin, Ireland, in 2018.