Pope Francis arrived in Philadelphia for the final leg of his US visit – a festive weekend celebrating Catholic families – and immediately called for the Church to place greater value on women.
After speeches to Congress and the United Nations earlier this week aimed at spurring world leaders towards bold action on immigration and the environment, he is expected to focus on ordinary Catholics during his time in Philadelphia.
As he was leaving Manhattan , Pope Francis asked to circle the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, becoming visibly moved as the helicopter carried him over the sights that greeted millions of immigrants to the US, according to Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who joined him on the flight.
Having arrived in Philadelphia – his visit ensuring that much of the city centre was off limits to all but pedestrians – the pontiff rode by motorcade to the central Cathedral Basilica of Sts Peter and Paul, where he celebrated Mass for about 1,600 people. The former Archbishop of Philadelphia, Cardinal Justin Rigali, who retired in 2011 amid a scandal over sex abuse by the clergy, was present.
In his homily, the Pope said the future of the Catholic Church in the US requires a much more active role for lay Catholics. “It means valuing the immense contribution which women, lay and religious, have made and continue to make to the life of our communities,” he said.
Pope Francis has repeatedly said women should have a greater role in Church leadership, although he has rejected the idea of ordaining women. Last night the Pope was due to give a speech on religious freedom and immigration at Independence Hall, where the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
The visit will culminate in an outdoor Mass, with hundreds of thousands of people set to attend, before the pontiff heads back to 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, aged 10 and 12.