Pope Francis led hundreds of thousands of the faithful Sunday at the last and biggest event of his joyful, six-day US visit—a Mass on Philadelphia's grandest boulevard—after consoling victims of the church sex abuse scandal and offering words of hope to jail inmates. Riding through the streets in his open-sided popemobile, the pontiff waved to cheering, screaming, singing, flag-waving crowds as he made his way up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and reached the altar at the steps of the tall-columned Philadelphia Museum of Art, a towering golden crucifix as a backdrop. Francis told his listeners that their presence itself was "a kind of miracle in today's world," an affirmation of the family and the power of love. "Would that all of us could be open to miracles of love for the sake of all the families of the world," he said.
The Mass was a vibrant tableau of brilliant gold, green and white in the slanted evening sunlight of a mild early-autumn day. It was the final event on Francis' itinerary before the 78-year-old pontiff was to return to Rome. June Bounds, 56, of Rochester, New York, watched along with fellow parishioners on a large screen set up a few blocks away at City Hall, closing her eyes and blinking back tears as the Mass opened. "It's very overwhelming," she says. "You feel like you're one body with everyone here, whether you're here, whether you're back home, whether you're anywhere in the world." Organizers predicted a crowd of 1 million, though there were fears that the unprecedented security, including airport-style bag searches, crowd-control cattle chutes, and blocked-off streets, had scared many people away and would depress the turnout.