September 27, 2015 — Pope Francis concludes his historic trip to the U.S. today in Philadelphia, where he’s attending the World Meeting of Families. But before heading to the closing Mass at the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, he made an unscheduled stop at Saint Joseph’s University, his first visit to a U.S. Jesuit university.
At SJU, Pope Francis greeted campus officials, students and religious leaders, including Jesuit Father Brendan Lally, and visited the newly dedicated statue, “Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time.” The bronze work was installed on campus Sept. 25, commemorating the 50th anniversary of “Nostra Aetate,” the Vatican II document that transformed the relationship between the Catholic and Jewish faiths.
Pope Francis greeting Saint Joseph's University president Mark C. Reed. (Saint Joseph’s University)
“Since his election, the Holy Father has inspired us in so many ways,” said Saint Joseph’s president Mark C. Reed. “His ministry and leadership style have been a topic of discussion and an example in our classrooms. He has reenergized and strengthened our student body in their Catholic faith. And he has reminded all of us of the power of humility and compassion.
“To have him actually set foot on our campus was unforgettable. This is a truly historic day for Saint Joseph’s University, Jesuit education across the country and the importance of interfaith relations.”
The pope made the unscheduled stop as he was en route to downtown Philadelphia for the papal Mass to conclude his visit and the World Meeting of Families. Pope Francis passed through the university three times earlier in the weekend and was greeted by hundreds of students, faculty, staff and alumni.
On Saturday, his first day in Philadelphia, the pope celebrated Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul and visited Independence Mall, where he delivered a speech in which he drove home the importance of religious freedom and immigrant rights. "Don’t forget the declaration that proclaimed that all men and women were created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights and that governments exist to protect and defend those rights,” he said.
He ended Saturday with a visit to the Festival of Families at the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, where he threw away a prepared text and, to the delight of the tens of thousands of people gathered, spoke from the heart about the challenges and love that come with being part of a family.
Pope Francis addresses the Festival of Families during the World Meeting of Families Philadelphia Sept. 26. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
“We are celebrating the feast of the family,” he told the crowd. “Families have a citizenship that is divine. The identity card that they have is given to them by God so that within the heart of the family truth, goodness and beauty can truly grow.
“Families have difficulties. Families — we quarrel, sometimes plates can fly, and children bring headaches. I won’t speak about mother-in-laws,” he quipped. “However, in families, there is always light” because of the love of God’s son.
“Just as there are problems in families, there is the light of the resurrection,” he said. “The family is like a factory of hope,” he said.
Sunday morning at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, he met with five adults who experienced sexual abuse as a minor by clergy, family members or teachers. Each was accompanied by a family member or support person. The pope spoke with them, listened to their stories, greeted them individually and prayed with them. He told them that he shared in their suffering, and he had pain and shame in particular in the case of injury caused by clergy or church workers.
Later in the morning, Pope Francis spent about an hour at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. He addressed the inmates in Spanish and told them he was visiting as a pastor, “but mostly as a brother.”
Pope Francis blesses a prisoner as he visits the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia Sept. 27. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
The pope urged the prisoners to dedicate their time in prison to “getting back on the right road” and preparing to rejoin society.
He concluded his visit to the U.S. with the closing Mass for the World Meeting of Families at the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which organizers had estimated 1 million people would attend. [Sources: CNS, AJCU]