Pope Francis Bids Farewell to NYC, Arrives in Philadelphia

US Pope Francis

Pope Francis has arrived in Philadelphia, the last stop on his U.S. trip.

The pontiff left Manhattan and arrived at JFK airport around 8:30 a.m. Saturday morning to a cheering crowd that included airport workers and Roman Catholic parishioners. Nuns and bisops greeted the pope with flowers and Argentinian cookies. By 9:09 a.m. the pope's plane, an American Airlines 777 dubbed "Shepherd One, was in the air.

After speeches to Congress and the United Nations earlier this week aimed at spurring world leaders toward bold action on immigration and the environment, he is expected to focus more heavily on ordinary Catholics during his two days in Philadelphia.

On the itinerary for Saturday: a visit to the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul for a Mass for about 1,200 people, and a late-afternoon speech in front of Independence Hall on religious freedom and immigration. The weekend's events will culminate in an outdoor Mass Sunday evening for 1 million people.

On the first two legs of his six-day U.S. journey, in Washington and New York, Francis was greeted by throngs of cheering, weeping well-wishers hoping for a glance or a touch from the wildly popular spiritual leader, despite unprecedented security that closed off many streets and kept crowds behind police barricades.

"He has a magnetic personality that not only appeals to Catholics, but to the universal masses. He's not scripted. He's relatable. His heart, in itself, you can see that reflected through his message," said Filipina Opena, 46, a Catholic from LaMirada, California, as tour groups and families walked among Philadelphia's historic sites ahead of the pope's visit. "People feel he's sincere and he's genuine."

In Philadelphia, Francis will be the star attraction at the World Meeting of Families, a conference for more than 18,000 people from around the world.

An Argentine on the first U.S. visit of his life, the 78-year-old Francis will be given a stage steeped in American history. Independence Hall was where the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Francis was scheduled to speak from the lectern Abraham Lincoln used to deliver the Gettysburg Address.

As he has done in New York and Washington, the pontiff will give his attention to both the elite and the disadvantaged, this time visiting inmates in Philadelphia's largest jail.

On Saturday night, on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the cultural heart of the city, he was be serenaded by Aretha Franklin and other performers at a festival celebrating families. He will return there Sunday for the Mass, his last major event before leaving that night for Rome.

"It's probably not politicians who will remember his message but the kids," said Liza Stephens, 48, of Sacramento, California, who was in Philadelphia with her two daughters, ages 10 and 12. The three spent time volunteering to bag food for Africa, among other activities at the family conference.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia organized the conference, hoping for a badly needed infusion of papal joy and enthusiasm amid shrinking membership, financial troubles and one of the worst clergy sex-abuse scandals to hit a U.S. diocese.

The archdiocese has been the target of three grand jury investigations. The last grand jury accused the diocese in 2011, before Archbishop Charles Chaput came to Philadelphia, of keeping on assignment more than three dozen priests facing serious abuse accusations.

A monsignor who oversaw priest assignments was found guilty of child endangerment, becoming the first American church official convicted of a crime for failing to stop abusers.

The pope is widely expected to talk privately with abuse victims this weekend.

The visit is also shaping up as one of the most interesting ecclesial pairings of the pope's trip. His host will be Chaput, an outspoken opponent of abortion and gay marriage who takes a harder line on church teaching in the archdiocese.

Chaput has said a local Catholic school run by nuns showed "character and common sense" by firing a teacher in June who married another woman. He recently wrote in the archdiocese newspaper that abortion is "a uniquely wicked act" that cannot be seen as one sin among many.

Three days ago, in an address to U.S. bishops laying out his vision for American Catholicism, Francis said attention should be paid to the "innocent victim of abortion" but listed the issue as one among many "essential" to the church's mission, including caring for the elderly and the environment.

Chaput has rejected the idea that he is in conflict with the social justice-minded pope, calling it a narrative invented by the media and pointing to the millions of dollars the archdiocese spends each year to help the poor and sick. The pope will be staying at the seminary where Chaput lives.

The pope is expected to talk about religious freedom at Independence Hall and is expected to bring his message of compassion, hope and strengthening the family to his appearances in the city.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics plan to hold separate events, including one for gay parents and their children, in a push for more acceptance in the church. Francis has famously said, "Who am I to judge?" when asked about a supposedly gay priest, but has also affirmed church teaching on marriage.

Mary McGuiness, a religion professor at La Salle University, a Catholic school in Philadelphia, said she doesn't anticipate a flood of local Catholics returning to Sunday Mass because of the pope's visit. She said the archdiocese has been through too much with abuse scandals and parish closings.

She said the intense attention to his speeches here could inspire people to "begin to think more about what Catholicism really means."

"I hope that will happen," she said. "But I hear a lot of people say, 'I like this pope, but I'm not going back.'"

Pope Francis celebrated Mass at Madison Square Garden Friday evening, offering a challenge to urban dwellers to care for the disenfranchised who live in "deafening anonymity" amid the wealth and bustle of "our great avenues."

"God is living in our cities," he said. "The Church is living in our cities, and she wants to be like yeast in the dough."

The pope's sermon capped off a whirlwind day that included a speech before the United Nations, a multi-faith service at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, a visit with Harlem school children and a ride through Central Park before adoring and emotional crowds. As he did in many part of his visit, Pope Francis stopped to bless children with special needs at the Garden. 

In his sermon before 18,000 gathered at the arena, the pontiff praised big cities as "a reminder of the hidden riches present in our world."

"In the diversity of its cultures, traditions and historical experiences, in the variety of its languages, costumes and cuisine, big cities bring together all the different ways which we human beings have discovered to express the meaning of life, wherever we may be," the pope said, according to his prepared homily provided by the church.  (Read the homily in full.)

But the pope also warned that cities can create seemingly invisible second-class citizens.

"They are the foreigners, the children who go without schooling, those deprived of medical insurance, the homeless, the forgotten elderly," Pope Francis said. "These people stand at the edges of our great avenues, in our streets, in deafening anonymity." 

But despite the "empty connections" and "sensationalist routines" of urban life,  the pope said, "knowing that Jesus still walks our streets, that he is part of the lives of his people, that he is involved with us in one vast history of salvation, fills us with hope."

Near the conclusion of the mass, Cardinal Timothy Dolan thanked Pope Francis and the pontiff received a roaring standing ovation from the emotional Madison Square Garden crowd. 

Before the pope's sermon at the Garden, tens of thousands of New Yorkers and spectators from across the globe greeted the pope with waves and shouts of joy as the beloved pontiff traveled through Central Park before heading for Madison Square Garden.

An estimated 80,000 people, of all ages and backgrounds, gathered, holding little Vatican flags, some gripping plush pope dolls and almost all shouting with pure joy and adoration at the sight of the popular pontiff who has electrified a city that takes everything in stride.  .

“I felt elated and grateful,” said Sara Michaelis, 47, who waited hours in Central Park. “I think this pope is planting tolerance and kindness— the kind all of us are yearning to hear about.”

As thousands waiting in line to get into the park Friday afternoon, hand-wanding security teams were added to expedite the process. Eventually, NBC 4 New York crews on the ground said authorities stopped checking tickets and just ushered people in.

Johanna Yorro, 33, jumped on a subway from Ozone Park, Queens, after radiation treatment to see the pope in Central Park. Yorro has been cancer-free since June and said winning the lotto to see the pontiff was “a sign.”

“I cried, I laughed, I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “It’s a sign of a second chance in life.”

Over the last two years, Yorro battled stage three cancer with countless chemo treatments, a double mastectomy and 20 radiation sessions with seven more to go. She found out she first had cancer when her son, now 2 years old, was just 13 months old.

“(The pope) is coming here now, I just finished battling cancer, and what a beautiful day it is today,” Yorro said.

Three students from Fordham university waited two hours to position themselves for the pope’s visit in Central Park. One of the teens, James Colazzo, said he was excited to see the pope because Fordham is a Jesuit school.

“He’s preaching the same values that were taught in my classroom—to be men and women for others,” Colazzo said.

The university sent out an email to all students about the pope lotto. Colazzo came as a guest after his two friends, Joseph Florio and Adam Meserve, both won tickets.

“We don’t know if we’re going to have the same type of pope again—a people’s pope.”

Earlier Friday, hundreds of students chanting "Holy father, We love you!" greeted the pope as he stopped at an elementary school in East Harlem, his third event on a busy day in the city.

A sea of young children and teenagers held out iPhones and cameras outside Lady Queen of Angels as they snapped selfies of themselves with His Holiness. Some were lucky enough to shake the hands of a smiling Francis on his way inside.

Inside the school, a group of young kids greeted the pope by singing the "Peace Prayer of St. Francis." A giant grin across his face, the pope leaned out and put his hand behind his ear, encouraging the chorus to sing louder.

They obliged with grins of their own. The pope then led them in prayer.

He also got a bit of a tech lesson. The pontiff was looking at projects that students from various schools had prepared for his visit. One had a touch screen with information about the environment.

As he examined it, Kayla Osborne asked him if he would like to try it.

Smiling, Francis had a go at moving items around on the screen. Kayla took his hand to help him. But the pope — who has said he hasn't watched TV in decades and doesn't know how to use a computer — couldn't quite get the hang of it.

So she did it for him, and then clicked to a screen that said, "We also thank God for the gift of having you as our pope."

In a brief speech, Francis invoked the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and told the children, many of whom are black and Latino, that King's dream of equal opportunity was a hope that children like them could get an education.

The pope says "it is beautiful to have dreams" and to be able to fight for them. He also gave them a homework assignment: to pray for him.

In the morning, Francis delivered an empowering, somber call for unity at the 9/11 Memorial before an interfaith group of 400 representatives and nearly two dozen relatives of victims of the terror attacks.

Friday's jam-packed schedule kicked off with the first papal address to the United Nations' General Assembly in which the pope declared there is a "right of the environment" and that mankind has no authority to abuse it, telling more than 100 world leaders and diplomats that urgent action is needed to halt the destruction of God's creation.

Full coverage Saturday on NBCNewYork.com and Weekend Today in New York.

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