Pope Francis arrives in Philadelphia for final U.S. stop
Francis scheduled to celebrate Mass at cathedral, give speech outside Independence Hall
PHILADELPHIA – Pope Francis arrived in Philadelphia on Saturday for the final leg of his U.S. visit -- a festive weekend devoted to celebrating Catholic families.
The pontiff's chartered American Airlines plane touched down at the Philadelphia airport after leaving John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, bringing him to a city of blocked-off streets, sidewalks lined with portable potties and checkpoints manned by police, National Guardsmen and border agents.
After speeches to Congress and the United Nations earlier this week aimed at spurring world leaders toward bold action on immigration and the environment, he is expected to focus more heavily on ordinary Catholics during his two days in Philadelphia.
On the itinerary for Saturday: a visit to the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul for a Mass for about 1,200 people, and a late-afternoon speech in front of Independence Hall on religious freedom and immigration. The weekend's events will culminate in an outdoor Mass Sunday evening for 1 million people.
Among those greeting Francis at the airport was Richard Bowes, a former Philadelphia police officer wounded in the line of duty seven years ago. Francis also got out of his black Fiat to bless a man in a wheelchair on the tarmac, kissing him on the forehead.
A Catholic high school band played the theme song from the Philadelphia-set movie "Rocky."
On the first two legs of his six-day U.S. journey in Washington and New York, Francis was greeted by throngs of cheering, weeping well-wishers hoping for a glance or a touch from the wildly popular spiritual leader, despite unprecedented security.
The Philadelphia visit, months in the making, all but paralyzed Center City, with stretches of Broad and Market Streets and other routes closed to all but pedestrians and lined with metal crowd-control barricades, massive concrete blocks and tall fences.
In Philadelphia, Francis will be the star attraction at the World Meeting of Families, a conference for more than 18,000 people from around the world.
An Argentine on the first U.S. visit of his life, the 78-year-old pontiff will be given a stage steeped in American history. Independence Hall was where the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Francis was scheduled to speak from the lectern Abraham Lincoln used to deliver the Gettysburg Address.
As he has done in New York and Washington, the pontiff will give his attention to both the elite and the disadvantaged, this time visiting inmates in Philadelphia's largest jail.
Saturday night on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the cultural heart of the city, he was be serenaded by Aretha Franklin and other performers at a festival celebrating families. He will return there Sunday for the Mass, his last major event before leaving that night for Rome.
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