World

Pope Francis wraps busy NYC day marked by contrast and one plea: 'Pray for me'

Pope Francis celebrates high Mass at Madison Square Garden in New York, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015.

Pope Francis celebrates high Mass at Madison Square Garden in New York, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015.  (ap)

Pope Francis' itinerary for his only full day in New York was packed with contrasts befitting a head of state dubbed the "slum pope" for his devotion to the poor. He moved from the corridors of power to the grit of the projects with lush Central Park in between.

Sweeping through the landmarks of America's biggest city, he offered comfort to 9/11 victims' families at ground zero, warnings to world leaders at the United Nations and encouragement to schoolchildren in Harlem as he mixed the high and low ministry so characteristic of his papacy.

In the early evening, he led a jubilant parade through Central Park past a crowd of about 80,000 and celebrated Mass at Madison Square Garden, usually the site of basketball games and rock concerts but this time the scene of a solemn service celebrating New York in all its diversity.

Before some 18,000 faithful he emphasized a point he has made throughout his U.S. trip: the need to welcome foreigners and marginalized people.

"Living in a big city is not always easy, yet big cities are a reminder of the hidden riches present in our world in the diversity of its cultures, traditions and historical experiences," he said in his homily in his native Spanish.

The Mass at the famed arena was the final event on his New York City trip. On Saturday morning, he flies to Philadelphia for a big Vatican-sponsored rally for Catholic families. As many as 1 million people are expected for the closing Mass on Sunday, the last day of Francis' six-day, three-city visit to the U.S.

In his speech at the U.N., the pope decried the destruction of the environment through a "selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity."

The environment itself has rights, and mankind has no authority to abuse them, said Francis, who hopes to spur concrete commitments at the upcoming climate-change negotiations in Paris.

He demanded immediate access for the world's poor to adequate food, water and housing, saying they have the right to lodging, labor and land.

The pontiff’s speech received repeated rounds of applause from an audience that included German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Bill and Melinda Gates, and Nobel peace laureate Malala Yousefzai, the young Pakistani activist shot and gravely wounded by the Taliban.

The ovations contrasted sharply with the moment of silent prayer during the pope's visit later in the day to ground zero for an interfaith tribute to the Sept. 11 victims.

After praying before the waterfall pools that mark the spot where the twin towers once stood, Francis met with relatives of the 3,000 victims whose names are inscribed on the water's edge.

Among those on hand was Monica Iken-Murphy, whose husband, bond trader Michael Patrick Iken, died in one of the towers.

"This is where loved ones lost their lives ... and this is the way we are going to honor them by having someone who is holy, closest to God, Pope Francis, come here and bless this site," Iken-Murphy said. "I couldn't be prouder to share this memorial and museum with him."

Francis' afternoon schedule reflected the penchant of the "people's pope" for engaging with the public, starting with a visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels School, set amid public housing in the heavily Hispanic neighborhood of East Harlem.

After the morning's serious activities, the 78-year-old pope clearly perked up when he got to the Catholic school. He joked around with the children, chatted happily with them in Spanish, shook hands and posed for a few selfies. A security guard intervened when one girl gave him a big hug.

The pope — who says he hasn't watched TV in decades and doesn't know how to work a computer — even got a lesson in how to use a touchscreen from fourth-grader Kayla Osborne, 8.

The crowd in the gym included about 150 immigrants and refugees, some of them in the U.S. illegally.

In his remarks, Francis recalled the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, saying: "His dream was that many children like you could get an education. It is beautiful to have dreams and to be able to fight for them."

About a half-hour before the popemobile passed through Central Park, a rainbow suddenly appeared above the crowd, which erupted in joyous "Oooohs!" and "Ahhhhhs!"

Francis smiled as he rode slowly in his open-sided Jeep past a cheering, shrieking crowd and a sea of arms holding cellphones aloft.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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