Francis has said he would work to rid the church of the sexual abuse of minors and in June announced the creation of a special Vatican tribunal to judge bishops accused of covering up or failing to prevent abuse.
Pilgrims from across the country and around the world began making the trek to the Mass hours ahead of its planned start, crossing bridges on foot and packing subway cars on their way to the security checkpoints ringing the Parkway.
Juanita de la Fuente of Brownstown Township (left), Debbie Bloomfield of Wyandotte and Marie Pierson of Dearborn traveled to Philadelphia in hopes of seeing Pope Francis.
Aretha Franklin leads an all-star lineup at the Festival of Families in Philadelphia, one of the events organized by the Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families, which brought Francis to the city after visits in Washington and New York.
After speeches to Congress and the United Nations last week aimed at spurring world leaders toward bold action on immigration and the environment, he focused more heavily on ordinary Catholics during his two days in Philadelphia.
“It is a fundamental right which shapes the way we interact socially and personally with our neighbors whose religious views differ from our own”, the pope said.
They erupted into cheers that might otherwise be found in a football stadium, and several of the students squealed with delight when they got a glimpse of Pope Francis.
The group is serving as volunteer travelers for a group of 400 from throughout Michigan who came to Philadelphia to see the Pope.
Earlier this week, at a high-profile speech before United States bishops on Wednesday, Francis emphasized the “courage” the bishops had shown in confronting the sex abuse crisis, which severely damaged the reputation of the church, and commended them for selling church property to compensate the victims.
“The family is handsome, but there’s effort involved and there are problems”, the pope said.
“The words of the past can help us work toward a better future”, Pope Francis said in front of an admiring crowd. Organizers expect that as many as 1 million people may take part.
The pope was welcomed by actor Mark Wahlberg, who hosted the evening’s performances.
He ended the night on stage at the Festival of Families, a Catholic event held once every three years, for a star-studded night of music and prayer.
In addition, the pope – famous for setting his prepared remarks aside to speak from the heart – also went off script for the first time on this trip, growing animated and passionate as he hailed a globalization that respects and does not erase each community’s distinctive identity.
The pope even joked about family life not being easy and that he knows about the problems they face – despite being a single man. “It’s what he’s articulating, that the church needs to step forward and needs to change its thinking about things”.