Pope Francis in US: Holy tour heads to Capitol Hill, NYC (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)
After spending the night at the Apostolic Nunciature ‒ the home of the Vatican City’s embassy in Washington, DC ‒ Pope Francis headed to Capitol Hill to address US lawmakers. At 10:01 a.m. local time, the Sergeant at Arms announced him as “The Pope of the Holy See.”
The pope framed his speech around four notable Americans: President Abraham Lincoln, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., social activist Dorothy Day and philosopher-monk Thomas Merton.
“The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us,” Pope Francis declared, citing the Golden Rule. His speech made a heartfelt plea for the acceptance of immigrants, economic justice, abolition of the death penalty and action on climate change. He also said that the very basis of marriage and the family was being called in question, and called for stopping the arms trade driven by “money drenched in blood.”
Each senator and representative received a ticket for one guest to attend the pope’s address. Several Supreme Court justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, were also present. However, three of the conservative-leaning judges ‒ Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, all of whom are Catholic ‒ declined to attend.
After he finished his address, Pope Francis stopped in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall to pay tribute to a statue of Junipero Serra, an 18th-century Franciscan friar who founded several missions in California designed to bring the Catholic faith to the indigenous people there. On Wednesday, the pope performed the first canonization Mass on US soil, declaring Serra a saint.
He then blessed a 2-week-old baby, Ella Blake. From there, the pontiff stepped out on the Speaker’s Balcony, overlooking the Capitol’s West Front Lawn and the National Mall. “Buenos dias,” he told the crowd of thousands, who roared with approval. He then blessed the people in Spanish with the help of a translator, followed by a plea for people to pray for him.
“I ask you all please to pray for me. If there are among you any who don’t believe or can’t pray, send good wishes my way,” Pope Francis said, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House John Boehner, both of whom are Catholic.
He concluded his remarks by saying “God bless America” in English.
Pope Francis then traveled a mile to St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, the oldest parish in the nation’s capital, passing FBI headquarters in his humble Fiat on the way. The church was founded in 1794 to minister to the needs of Irish immigrants brought to the city to build the White House and Capitol buildings.
St. Patrick’s and the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington hosted the pontiff during the last official stop on his DC tour. While there, he addressed about 400 people, including parishioners, people served by Catholic Charities and choirs from two local high schools. In his remarks, he called for charity and compassion toward the homeless and the least fortunate members of society. He also compared the poor to Jesus’ family.
"Your faces remind me of his," the pope said in Spanish. "I can imagine Joseph, with his wife about to have a child, with no shelter, no home, no place to stay. The Son of God came into this world as a homeless person. The Son of God knew what it was to start life without a roof over his head. We can imagine what Joseph must have been thinking. How is it that the Son of God has no home?"
Pope Francis led the group in saying the Lord’s Prayer in English and Spanish, then blessed the lunch of teriyaki chicken, pasta salad, green beans and carrots to be fed to the Catholic Charities’ 200 homeless clients.
The pontiff’s supporters held a rally on the National Mall urging Congress to address climate change.
Driving through early rush hour traffic on Thursday afternoon, the pope headed to Joint Base Andrews for his flight to New York.
Even before he had left the nation’s capital, though, the White House had already begun replacing the Vatican flags with those of China, as President Xi Jinping heads to DC for an official state visit. The Chinese leader delayed his cross-country flight from Seattle, Washington so that he would land at the same military base an hour after the pope had departed from there.
Farewell Pope Francis. Greetings President Xi — White House wastes no time switching flags as China's leader arrives pic.twitter.com/t83OBZ8N2Q— Peter Baker (@peterbakernyt) September 24, 2015
Catholic school students and members of the Archdiocese of Washington’s young adult ministry lined the tarmac at Andrews to see the pontiff off. Pope Francis boarded a chartered American Airlines flight to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.
The plane, with the Federal Aviation Administration-approved call sign of “Shepherd One,” landed at JFK just after 5 p.m. As he stepped off the plane, the Xaverian High School band heralded him with its renditions of Frank Sinatra’s 'New York, New York' and the religious 'City of God'.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York; Archbishop Bernardito Cleopas Auza, the Holy See’s observer to the United Nations; and 200 others, including five Catholic school children, met Pope Francis on the ground.
After greeting the students, he boarded a private helicopter to fly to Manhattan.
Upon arriving, the pope's motorcade drove through the city St. Patrick's, with Francis greeting onlookers before arriving at the cathedral.
Inside the church, Francis blessed a little girl in a wheelchair, bringing tears to her eyes.
He then delivered flowers to a statue of Mary.
Francis also extended a prayer to those Muslims who were killed in a stampede in Mecca on Thursday.
"I would have wished my greeting to be warmer, my sentiments of closeness. My sentiments of closeness in the face of tragedy," he said, according to the Guardian. "The tragedy that they suffered in Mecca. In this moment I give assurances of my prayers. I unite myself with you all. A prayer to almighty God, all merciful."
The pontiff then thanked the women of the church.
"What would the church be without you? Women of strength. Fighters with that spirit of courage which puts you in the front lines, in the proclamation of the gospel," he said. "To you religious women, sisters and mothers of this people, I wish to say thank you. A big thank you. And to tell you that I love you very much.