10 Beautifully Sincere Moments From Pope Francis' Visit To The States
Pope Francis began his trip to the United States with a speech before 11,000 on the White House lawn. He concluded his trip on Sunday by hosting an open-air Mass ceremony in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. From his meeting with a five-year-old Mexican immigrant girl to his speech before Congress that literally inspired tears from former Speaker of the House John Boehner, the Pope's historic trip was full of memorable moments.
Upon arriving on American soil in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, the Pope visited the White House, U.S. Capitol, and local bishops before leaving for New York on Thursday. There, he visited the United Nations headquarters, Ground Zero, Central Park, the Madison Square Garden, and a local elementary schools. On Saturday, he traveled to Philadelphia, and visited prisoners at a correctional facility before attending a farewell ceremony in front of the Philadelphia International Airport.
Francis' most meaningful moments in America were arguably those in which he demonstrated compassion and respect for different types of people, and preached mercy and empathy on issues you would hardly expect a Pope to weigh in on. Altogether, it was a historic trip filled with too many highlights to count, nearly all of his stops attracting streets filled with hundreds of thousands of people, and the sort of spontaneous, unscripted events that have earned him recognition as the "people's Pope."
Here are just a few of them.
1. "[I Am] The Son Of An Immigrant Family"
In a speech before 11,000 on the White House lawn on Thursday, Pope Francis referred to himself as the "son of an immigrant family," according to the LA Times, and reminded his audience that America was "largely built by such families." The Pope spoke against all forms of discrimination, and assured listeners of the Church's commitment to making society "truly tolerant and inclusive." The Catholic Church's approach to women's and LGBT rights might be controversial and a little contradictory, but it was incredibly important for the Pope to condemn racial discrimination and discuss the need for a more tolerant, inclusive society. Xenophobia and racially-charged police brutality have increasingly become points of contention in American politics, and Francis' receptiveness to this was certainly impressive.
2. Meeting Sophie Cruz
In a parade through the National Mall, the procession paused as Pope Francis met Sophie Cruz, the five-year-old daughter of two undocumented immigrants from Mexico. Cruz brought the Pope a letter asking him to push for immigration reform. The Pope held, kissed, and blessed the girl, and went on to discuss immigration in his speech before Congress. The event may not have been as miraculously spontaneous as it appeared, according to Yahoo! News, but it once again shined light on the Pope's admirable dedication to immigration reform.
3. Discussing The Tragedy In Mecca
On Thursday evening at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, Pope Francis discussed the stampede in Mecca that killed hundreds earlier that day and expressed his sympathy for all who were affected. His compassion when discussing the Islamic faith in the wake of recent episodes of Islamophobia served as refreshing evidence of his tolerance and progressiveness.
4. Visiting Ground Zero
While in New York, Pope Francis visited the 9/11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan just weeks after the 14th anniversary of the terror attack. The Pope prayed for eternal peace for 9/11 victims and the loved ones of victims. Before more than 400 representatives from faith groups, the Pope preached acceptance of all different cultures, languages, and faiths, and claimed to oppose "any attempt to make us all the same," instead urging his audience to "say yes to our differences, accepting reconciliation," according to ABC Eyewitness News.
Given the disturbing Islamophobia that 9/11 has led to, the Pope couldn't have chosen a better site to discuss religious freedom and tolerance for different faiths and cultures.
5. The Fiat
While in Washington, the Pope opted to be driven around in a modest Fiat as a subtle statement against greed and excessive wealth. His choice in automobile reflected his stances on economic equity, and reinforced Americans' perceptions of him as the "people's Pope." In a way, the interesting image of the Pope in a car further cast him as a modern Pope, as if his recording a rock album didn't quite drive that point home.
6. Blessing Children In Wheelchairs
On multiple occasions throughout his trip, the Pope spontaneously went out of his way to meet and bless youths in wheelchairs. While in New York, he stopped outside St. Patrick's Cathedral to meet and bless a teenage victim of spina bifida, and in Philadelphia, stopped his car and got out to bless an 11-year-old boy in a wheelchair, ABC Eyewitness News reported, who also happened to be a bishop's son. To most Americans, such genuine, spontaneous acts of compassion toward the downtrodden have now become characteristic of the Pope.
7. Meeting Prisoners
Just months after President Obama's historic visit to a federal prison and in light of increasing demands for national prison reform, Pope Francis visited Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia, and met about 75 prisoners and their families. The Pope insisted that members of society should reserve judgement for prisoners, and stated, "I am here as a pastor, but above all as a brother, to share your situation and to make it my own. ... All of us need to be cleansed." American politicians could learn a lot about compassion from the empathy and respect Pope Francis showed the inmates.
8. Meeting Sexual Abuse Victims
On his final day in the United States, Pope Francis privately met with five victims of Catholic Church sexual abuse in Philadelphia. He publicly apologized and vowed to ensure that the clergy responsible would face justice. "I remain overwhelmed with shame that men entrusted with the tender care of children violated these little ones and caused grievous harm. I am profoundly sorry. God weeps," he stated, in an emotional speech before priests and bishops at St. Charles Borromeo seminary. Although many activists still call for "action to follow those words," according to the Washington Post, many were encouraged that the Pope took the time to meet victims. The sympathy and respect the Pope offered victims of sexual abuse was impressively timely in light of the growing movement against victim-blaming and sexual violence.
9. His Exchange With John Boehner
After nearly two decades of trying to bring the Pope to the White House, Boehner, who is a Catholic, was seen crying within seconds of Pope Francis' historic speech to Congress. Not long after his crying went viral on the Internet, John Boehner announced his resignation from the position of Speaker of the House, and described an emotional exchange he shared with the Pope the day before that made him rethink his initial decision to resign at the end of November. "The Pope puts his arm around me and kind of pulls me to him and says please pray for me," Boehner recounted. "Who am I to pray for the Pope? But I did." There are many theories about Boehner's motives for resigning, but his interactions with the Pope potentially played a role in his decision and have brought national attention to his career and the question of who will succeed him.
10. The Enormous Crowds
Listed in Politico's Politico 50 this summer, Pope Francis is becoming increasingly recognized for his political influence, gaining celebrity in the American political sphere for his progressive stances on climate change, economic equity, immigration, and even, to an extent, LGBT rights. His influence in the United States was made even more visible by the enormous crowds of Americans of all faiths he attracted throughout his trip.