The supermoon was arriving as Pope Francis flew out of Philadelphia Sunday night. It was a spectacular end to an extraordinary visit by the pontiff who has charmed the world with his simple lifestyle and radical pronouncements.
In six days, the 78-year-old pope visited Philadelphia, New York and Washington D.C., demonstrating Herculean stamina while immobilizing the cities with security checks, traffic and a pervasive and contagious goodwill. People traveled from all over the U.S. to cheerfully wait for the chance to see the “popemobile” pass by. Occasionally, they were rewarded with an impromptu stop, such as when the pope halted the motorcade so he could kiss a 10-year-old with cerebral palsy.
At addresses before Congress and the United Nations, Francis steered carefully through divisive issues such as capital punishment and abortion while urging political leaders to adopt a “spirit of cooperation” while addressing the world’s ills. Yet he exhorted bishops and priests to employ “holy parrhesia” — a fearlessness in speech — when preaching the Gospel. “A Christianity which does little in practice, while explaining its teachings, is dangerously unbalanced,” the pope said.
Francis, who famously renounced traditional quarters for a Vatican guestroom, brought his Jesuit minimalism to New York, asking only for water and bananas in his bedroom.
In a visit to the 9/11 memorial in New York City, as well as in a private meeting with five survivors of sexual abuse, a somber pope expressed profound grief. At a Philadelphia prison, he told inmates he came as a brother, “to share your situation and make it my own.”
The central reason for Francis’ visit, however, was the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, where he urged quiet acts of love — “homely gestures” — to strengthen individuals and “the great human family.” His last public words on American soil were “God bless America.” In affectionate response, America replies, God bless this pope. And please come again.