AP Photo / John Minchillo

Pope celebrates Mass for a million or more in Philadelphia

Earlier Pope Francis prayed with sex abuse survivors on final day of US trip

Greeted by throngs of cheering faithful at every turn, Pope Francis capped his whirlwind visit to the United States in an entirely fitting way — a Mass for the masses on Philadelphia's grandest boulevard — while also meeting with victims of sexual abuse and spending time with inmates at the city's largest jail.

Pilgrims packed subway cars, lugging bags and portable chairs, as they made their way to Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway, where Francis celebrated an afternoon Mass that drew a million people or more. Many people waited for several hours to pass through security checkpoints.

Francis made a grand entrance, arriving in his popemobile at the foot of the Philadelphia Museum of Art as music by the Philadelphia Orchestra reached a crescendo. There, he began celebrating Mass in front of hundreds of thousands of people in the final public event of his U.S. tour.

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.

An army of about 10,000 volunteers helping out with the Mass included ushers, guides, choral singers and Eucharistic ministers who passed out communion.

Earlier in the day, the pope blessed a new statue honoring the relationship between Catholics and Jews. The sculpture was unveiled Friday and commemorates the 50th anniversary of a document that urged stronger relations between the two religions. Francis was joined by his longtime friend, Argentinian Rabbi Abraham Skorka.

Pope Francis also met with 100 inmates in a prison in Philadelphia. While Francis was in the gym of the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, his remarks were broadcast to the prison's other 3,000 inmates.

There, he invoked the parable of Jesus washing the feet of his apostles, and encouraged the group of prisoners to get their lives back on track. Pope Francis then walked through the gym at Philadelphia's largest jail and shook the hands of each of the men and women individually.

The 100 inmates in blue uniforms remained in their seats Sunday until two stood up near the end to hug Francis. He also blessed an inmate in a wheelchair.

Francis thanked the inmates at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility for the large wooden chair that they made for him, calling it beautiful.

He has criticized prison systems that only work to punish and humiliate prisoners, and he has denounced life prison terms and isolation as a form of torture.

Earlier, Francis met victims of clergy sex abuse and vowed to hold responsible all involved in abuse and cover-ups. A Vatican spokesman says Pope Francis met with five victims of sexual abuse: people who were victims of priests, relatives and teachers.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi says the three women and two men met with the pope for a half hour at the St. Charles Borromeo seminary Sunday, the pope's last day in the U.S.

Lombardi says the pope prayed with the survivors, listened to their stories and expressed his closeness in their suffering and his "pain and shame" in the case of those abused by priests.

"God weeps for sexual abuse of children," the 78-year-old pontiff told bishops at a seminary. He called for stronger "oversight to ensure that youth are protected and ... all responsible will be held accountable."

Cardinal Sean O'Malley, who heads Francis' sex abuse commission, organized the encounter along with the Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput.

Speaking to U.S. bishops, Francis said sexual abuse can no longer be kept a secret. He says he promised to "zealously" protect young people and that "all those responsible are held accountable."

Francis has decided to create a new Vatican tribunal to prosecute bishops who failed to protect their flock by covering up for pedophile priests rather than reporting them to police.

Reports that priests had sexually abused children and bishops had covered up their actions emerged in 2002, growing into a scandal that has rocked the Roman Catholic Church.

Victims' groups say the church has not done enough. As many as 100,000 U.S. children may have been the victims of clerical sex abuse, insurance experts said in a paper presented at a Vatican conference in 2012.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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