PHILADELPHIA — On the final day of his visit to the United States, Pope Francis met with sex abuse victims and then with prison inmates Sunday in gestures that served as a reminder of the Catholic Church’s greatest failings and its enduring moral power.
He then traveled aboard the popemobile through vast crowds here, kissing babies and children, and celebrated an outdoor Mass before hundreds of thousands.
“As far as goodness and purity of heart are concerned, we human beings don’t have much to show,” he said in his sermon. But he added, “if only we have faith, the Father will give us his Spirit.”
The Mass, his last in the U.S., bore all the pomp of the ancient ceremony, with a sea of the faithful uttering “amens,” the voices of the choir soaring over a thronged boulevard and the smoke of incense drifting in the air. As the pope held a communion wafer aloft, the clicks of digital cameras broke the silence.
Frances left the Mass to applause, saying, as he has all week, “Pray for me. Don’t forget.”
In a goodbye ceremony at the airport here, he noted that “my days with you have been brief” and urged Vice President Joe Biden and others listening to remember the urgent issues he has championed: caring for the environment, the poor, and immigrants.
“May our days together bear fruit that will last,” he said, speaking in English.
Thus ended an extraordinary day and a momentous six-day pilgrimmage by Francis through Philadelphia, New York and Washington.
The 78-year-old pontiff started his day Sunday morning by speaking with five victims of sexual abuse at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary — a much anticipated event in a city still scarred by a scandal that tainted many priests. The three women and two men were abused by clergy, family members, or teachers, according to the Vatican’s press office.
“God weeps,” the pope told a gathering of bishops afterward, departing from his prepared speech. “I commit to a careful oversight of the church to ensure that youth are protected, and I promise that all those responsible will be held accountable.”
The pope met later with about 100 inmates at the largest of Philadelphia’s six prisons, telling them, “All of us need to be cleansed, to be washed.” He waded into the audience of prisoners clad in light-blue uniforms, grasping their hands and touching their heads and hugging three. It offered a testament to the pope’s efforts to tend the poor, forgotten and neglected.
The Vatican had refused repeatedly to say whether the pope would reach out to abuse victims, describing such a meeting as a personal encounter, not a media event. Victims and their advocates have criticized the pope for paying too little attention to the sexual-abuse crisis that shocked much of the nation and that left the U.S. Catholic Church with deep wounds.
“I am profoundly sorry that your innocence was violated by those who you trusted,” Francis told the sex-abuse victims, according to his prepared remarks that were released by the Vatican. “We promise to support your continued healing and to always be vigilant to protect the children of today and tomorrow.”
Kevin Waldrip, 64, who was abused on his 13th birthday by “a priest who was one of the first to be convicted,” was unmoved by the pope’s meeting and by his statement afterward.
“God may weep,” he said, “but [the pope] certainly doesn’t and the church doesn’t. They’ve proven it again and again.”
The pope’s meetings with sex abuse victims and prisoners came hours ahead of the Mass — the capstone of his two days in Philadelphia.
“Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love,” the pope, dressed in vestments of gold and emerald green, said in his final homily of the week.
“‘Whoever gives you a cup of water in my name will not go unrewarded,’ says Jesus,” the pope declared, speaking in Spanish in front of a huge gold crucifix against the back drop of columned Museum of Art.
“These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do,” he said. “They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children.”
“They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion,” he said. “Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early breakfast awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work…a blessing before we go to bed.
“Love is shown by little things,” he said.
Despite exhaustive planning for massive crowds, tens of thousands of pilgrims were stuck in long security lines at the 10 checkpoints around the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and were unable to to make it to the Mass. Some took the human logjam in stride, including Soren Johnson, who lives in Leesburg, Va., and who had packed four of his five children into the family minivan at 9 a.m. Sunday morning for the drive to Philadelphia.
“I feel that giving my kids this experience is already a great memory of Pope Francis,” said Johnson, 40, “and that they’ll have some experience, albeit distant, of a very special pope.”
Others were deeply disappointed not to make it past the security checkpoints in a city that had practically shut down for the pope’s visit.
“It would have been nice if this was organized,” said Chris Johnson, who lives outside Philadelphia in Levittown. Johnson and her friends all had tickets to the mass but they were stuck in a line of thousands that wasn’t moving on 20th Street.
“We’ve been standing here for three hours and we haven’t moved,” she said. “It just makes me angry. Checking bags should not take this long. They either don’t know what they’re doing or they don’t have enough people.”
The 4 p.m. service was the climax of an historic journey that has riveted Americans’ attention, giving Francis a broad audience for his messages about serving the poor, bolstering families, caring for the environment and welcoming immigrants.
If Francis’s message to abuse victims was that the church can and will change, then his message to prisoners was that they can choose to change and find redemption.
Inmates at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility include some who are awaiting trial and others who have been convicted of crimes including selling drugs, rape and murder.
“This time in your life can only have one purpose: to give you a hand in getting back on the right road, to give you a hand to help you rejoin society,” Francis told them, speaking before a stately walnut chair that inmates built for him.
He spoke of Jesus’s washing the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper, and he said that everyone — including prisoners and the pope himself — has something “we need to be cleansed of, or purified from.”
“Life is a journey, along different roads, different paths, which leave their mark on us,” he said.
Francis’s earlier address before the bishops Sunday morning returned to some of his favorite themes, criticizing what he described as society’s obsession with material goods.
“Today, consumerism determines what is important. Consuming relationships, consuming friendships, consuming religions, consuming, consuming . . . whatever the cost or consequences,” Francis said in his prepared remarks.
But it was his unscripted comments about child sexual abuse, delivered at the beginning of his address, that came as something of a surprise and won the greatest notice.
“It continues to be on my mind,” he said, “that people who had the responsibility to take care of these tender ones violated that trust and caused them great pain.”
An earlier version of this story said the pope met with five victims of clergy sex abuse. He met with three women and two men who were abused by clergy, family members, or teachers.
Emma Brown reported from Washington and Joe Heim and Terrence McCoy from Philadelphia. Jake Blumgart, Pamela Constable, Abigail Ohlheiser, Frances Stead Sellers and Julie Zauzmer in Philadelphia and Susan Levine and Antonio Olivo in Washington contributed to this report.