At mass Saturday before more than 2,000 mostly priests, women religious and deacons, Francis invoked the name of Katharine Drexel, who founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. He called her “one of the great saints raised up by this local Church.”
Francis praised the “efforts of all those dedicated priests, religious and laity who for over two centuries have ministered to the spiritual needs of the poor, the immigrant, the sick and those in prison.”
He spoke of “the hundreds of schools where religious brothers and sisters trained children to read and write, to love God and neighbor, and to contribute as good citizens to the life of American society.”
The Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul was the Pope’s first stop in Philadelphia, the country’s fifth-largest city. It was a spiritual boost for the city’s clergy, who have been battered in recent years by sexual abuse scandals, parish mergers and school closings.
Later Saturday, Francis will give an address on religious freedom and immigration, before making an appearance at the Festival of Families.
Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput says he personally petitioned the Pope to speak about religious freedom during his visit to the city.
Francis obliged, but also added another topic to his highly anticipated address: immigration.
It’s an issue the Pope has mentioned on almost every stop during his six-day trip to the United States, often in extremely personal terms.
Before the Pope addresses the Festival of Families on Saturday night, several celebrities will entertain the crowd.
Comedian (and devout Catholic) Jim Gaffigan will tell some jokes, gospel and soul great Aretha Franklin will sing a song or two and actor Mark Wahlberg, also a Catholic, will emcee the event.
With many streets closed, families were walking to the festival, hours before the Pope was due to arrive.