World

Pope finished U.S. tour with outdoor mass to hundreds of thousands in Philadelphia

Adoring fans cheer, clap and cry as Pope Francis delivers a message of love during the final public event of his 10-day trip to the United States and Cuba.

Pontiff met with sex abuse victims and prison inmates on last day of his U.S. visit

Hundreds of thousands flocked to see Pope Francis celebrate the final mass of his visit to the United States in Philadelphia on Sunday. (Tony Gentile/REUTERS)

Pope Francis led hundreds of thousands of the faithful Sunday at the last and biggest event of his joyful, six-day U.S. visit — a mass on Philadelphia's grandest boulevard — after consoling victims of the church sex abuse scandal and offering words of hope to jail inmates.

Riding through the streets in his open-sided Popemobile, the pontiff waved to cheering, screaming, singing crowds as he made his way up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and reached the altar, a towering golden crucifix as a backdrop.

Francis told his listeners that their presence itself was "a kind of miracle in today's world," an affirmation of the family and the power of love.

"Would that all of us could be open to miracles of love for the sake of all the families of the world," he said.

Some 1,500 priests and deacons joined to give communion at the mass, expected to be the largest event of the Pope's visit that began in Washington on Tuesday

Crowds kilometres away fell silent during the communion, some people kneeling on the paving stones at Philadelphia's city hall, a few blocks from the altar.

The mass itself was a vibrant tableau of brilliant gold, green and white in the slanted evening sunlight of a mild early-autumn day. It was the final event on the pope's itinerary before the 78-year-old pontiff returned to Rome.

These two girls from California slept on the side of the road to get a chance to see the Pope. (Marie Claudet/CBC)

June Bounds, 56, of Rochester, New York, watched along with fellow parishioners on a large screen set up a few blocks away from the mass, closing her eyes and blinking back tears as it opened.

"It's very overwhelming," she said. "You feel like you're one body with everyone here, whether you're here, whether you're back home, whether you're anywhere in the world."

Organizers predicted a crowd more than a million people, though there were fears that the unprecedented security, including airport-style bag searches, crowd-control cattle chutes and blocked-off streets, had scared many people away and would depress the turnout. There was no immediate estimate of the crowd at the mass.

Philadelphia's mass transit agency reported increased ridership on special papal trains heading into the city. More than 500 buses carrying 26,000 people had arrived by 11 a.m., nearly half of the shuttles organizers expect for the Mass.

Pope meets with sex-abuse victims

Pope Francis met on Sunday with five adults who were abused by Catholic clergy when they were children and vowed to hold responsible all involved in the crime or cover-ups.

He assured them that bishops who covered up for abusers will be made to answer for what they did.

"I pledge to you that we will follow the path of truth wherever it may lead," Francis said in Spanish. "Clergy and bishops will be held accountable when they abuse or fail to protect children."

Pope Francis called for accountability in cases of sexual abuse in the church, though advocates stress that action must follow 3:56

He later met with bishops from the U.S. and around the world who were in town for a Catholic festival and echoed his message.

The pope has agreed to create a new Vatican tribunal to prosecute bishops who failed to protect their flock, and he has accepted the resignations of three U.S. bishops accused of mishandling abuse cases.

During his first meeting with victims, held at the Vatican in July 2014, Francis similarly vowed to hold bishops accountable, but Sunday marked the first time that he had warned the bishops themselves, face-to-face, and in public.

Victims' groups say the Church has not done enough. As many as 100,000 U.S. children may have been the victims of clerical sex abuse, insurance experts said in a paper presented at a Vatican conference in 2012.

Victims, advocates wary

The Pope's milder comments on the scandal earlier in the trip, when he did not utter the words "sexual abuse" and talked about the pain the Church had faced in managing the scandal, had angered victims.

Clergy sex abuse victims and their advocates welcomed his more direct approach on Sunday but expressed skepticism that they would lead to change.

They were powerful words. Now we have to put those words into real action.- Mark  Rozzi , sexual abuse survivor

"The significant aspect of his words today is that he promised that all responsible will be held accountable. Now the test of his resolve will be whether he follows through," said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, a private group that has tracked the clergy sex abuse scandal and its aftermath.

Mark Rozzi, a Pennsylvania state legislator who was raped by his parish priest as a young teen, said he welcomed Francis' change in tone.

"They were powerful words. Now we have to put those words into real action," said Rozzi, who has introduced legislation that would make it easier for people who had been sexually abused as children to sue the Church, a move the bishops' lobbying arm has strongly resisted.

Francis hugs inmates

Francis, who has emphasized humility and service over pomp and circumstance since being elected pope two years ago, also visited the Philadelphia's Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility.

The 100 inmates in blue uniforms remained in their seats Sunday until two stood up near the end to hug Francis. He also blessed an inmate in a wheelchair.

Francis thanked the inmates  for the large wooden chair that they made for him, calling it beautiful.

Pope Francis embraces one of the inmates at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

He has criticized prison systems that only work to punish and humiliate prisoners, and he has denounced life prison terms and isolation as a form of torture.

Father Matthew Palkowski, the prison's Catholic chaplain, invited the Pope to "visit part of his flock" at the maximum-security facility. 

"I am hoping it will give them hope, it will give them a new view of themselves. So many of them have such hard lives and they have such a low view of themselves and they don't value themselves," Palkowski told CBC News. "They will be able to see themselves as sons and daughters of God and change the way they live because they have a new respect for their own dignity."

With files from CBC News

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