Pope Francis called for the church to place greater value on women and urged a more active role for lay Catholics after arriving in Philadelphia on Saturday — the final stop on his historic, three-city U.S. trip.
The pontiff kicked off a festive weekend in the City of Brotherly Love by celebrating Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul amid high security.
He told the packed cathedral of about 1,600 people that the future of the Catholic church depended on more involvement from women and laity.
“It means valuing the immense contribution in which women, lay and religious, have made and continue to make to the life of our communities,” he said in Spanish during his homily, which garnered applause at its end.
Francis is in Philadelphia to promote religious freedom in the birthplace of American independence. The city awoke to 8-foot-tall mesh fences, concrete barriers and bike racks lining the streets as airport-style security — including TSA agents — was installed for the pontiff’s visit.
He arrived shortly after taking off from from New York’s JFK airport at 9:10 a.m. ET on a chartered American Airlines Boeing 777. A band from Bishop Shanahan High School, a Catholic school, played the theme song from the Philadelphia-set movie “Rocky.”
The popular and unpredictable pope shook hands with a small group of greeters and waved for cameras on Philadelphia International Airport’s tarmac before getting into a small black Fiat that was bound for Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, as crowds watched and cheered from behind barricades.
But seconds after getting into the car, Francis, spotting a child in a wheelchair behind the barricades, got out. He walked over and kissed the boy, Michael Keating, 10, on the head before climbing back into the backseat of the Fiat. Michael is the son of Bishop Shanahan’s band director, Chuck Keating, and suffers from cerebral palsy.
After Mass, the pope headed to visit a seminary, and later this afternoon, Francis will hold a speech on religious freedom and immigration in front of Independence Hall.
The 78-year-old Buenos Aires-born pontiff wraps up his six-day American tour on Sunday with a Mass outside the neoclassical Philadelphia Art Museum, expected to attract as many as 1.5 million people.
A large swath of the city was shut down to cars. Rivers that flow alongside sensitive sites were locked down to any boat traffic.