By Kylie McCracken | For the Duquesne Duke
Introducing himself as a brother, a son of immigrants and a neighbor, Pope Francis brought a message of religious freedom to millions of people during his six-day trip to the United States.
Pope Francis completed his trip to the United States with a Sunday Mass in Philadelphia held on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Pilgrims from all over the world, including more than 40 Duquesne students and faculty, gathered to hear the Catholic pontiff speak.
Ken Anthony and Emmanuel Okechukwu traveled from Nigeria to attend the gathering and see Pope Francis. Okechukwu said it was a long 20-hour flight to get to Philadelphia, but this pilgrimage was necessary to bring hope and positivity back to their home.
Prior to the weekend, the World Meeting of Families took place in Philadelphia, welcoming families to celebrate the joy of life and faith. A variety of seminars were held for all ages, encouraging and guiding family unity.
“Family is key,” Okechukwu said. “If family is good, then society is good.”
Pope Francis began his U.S. tour at the nation’s capital Wednesday morning.
As the first pope to address the U.S. Congress, Francis discussed many controversial issues, including the death penalty, immigration and environmental abuse. The Capitol Building and Capitol Hill were packed with thousands of pilgrims, immigrants and congressmen waiting to hear what Pope Francis had to say.
Leslie Hernandez from St. Louis, MO, called the trip “a miracle that happens once in a lifetime.”
Hernandez said she was thrilled when Francis mentioned the importance of maintaining family and societal unity, as well as enforcing the Golden Rule.
Hernandez, moved to tears during Pope Francis’ speech, said the overall message was “deep and so simple, directing us to human ideals and spiritual hope as Christians bringing the Kingdom to Earth.”
Six-year-old Ekuba MacDonnell-Monahan and his family traveled to the capital city to listen to Pope Francis speak. MacDonnell-Monahan was born in Ethiopia and adopted by a Catholic family from Maryland.
His parents said it is important for him and his brother to have the opportunity to see the Pope. During the address, the young boy was able to see over the crowd by sitting on his father’s shoulders.
“Pope Francis is good,” MacDonnell-Monahan said, with a smile. The boy added that he especially likes that idea that Pope Francis wants to help the environment.
Francis finished his U.S. pilgrimage in the City of Brotherly Love, shutting down a five mile stretch of Downtown Philadelphia from late Friday night until Monday morning. Cars were unable to drive downtown for security reasons, but pedestrian crowds were able to follow foot traffic to desired locations and security checkpoints.
On Sunday Morning, the streets of Philadelphia were filled with much excitement as over one million people gathered to celebrate mass with Pope Francis.
Before Pope Francis’ Sunday mass in Philadelphia, crowds waited for several hours to get through security checkpoints. People passed the time by singing gospel songs and engaging in friendly conversations.
Sisters Cathy Kreis and Connie Sharp were two pilgrims who waited nearly three hours just to get past security. Braving a 24 hour bus ride from Kansas City, Kreis said she came just to celebrate Mass with the pope. She called the service “the most powerful prayer ever for 1.5 million people.” .
Kreis says Pope Francis gives her hope, and she likes “the way he loves and the way he resonates with everyone.”
Pope Francis reminded Catholics and non-Catholics of the importance of family, and he encourages all people to help each other. Pope Francis’ last message was, “I pray for you all, for all of the people of the United States, and I ask you please to pray for me.”