NEW YORK – Pope Francis concluded a whirlwind tour through New York City Friday evening, celebrating Mass at Madison Square Garden, where he reflected on challenges that accompany “living in a big city” and once again urging Catholics to venture out to “meet others where they really are.”
In a homily delivered to 20,000 worshippers, who waited in security lines stretching several blocks, Francis called on New Yorkers to pay attention to “the faces of all those people who don’t appear to belong.”
“They are the foreigners, the children who go without schooling, those deprived of medical insurance, the homeless, the forgotten elderly,” the pope said. “These people stand at the edges of our great avenues, in our streets, in deafening anonymity.”
The pope told the crowd to take heart in Jesus, who provides believers with hope, “A hope which liberates us from the forces pushing us to isolation and lack of concern for the lives of others, for the life of our city.”
He said this hope “makes us see, even in the midst of smog, the presence of God as he continues to walk the streets of our city.”
In addresses earlier this week in Washington, Francis urged the Church to venture out into society and engage in dialogue. He reiterated this theme Friday, asking worshippers to meet people where they are and proclaim the joy of their faith.
Jesus, the pope preached, “keeps telling his disciples to go, to go out. He urges them to go out and meet others where they really are, not where we think they should be. Go out, again and again, go out without fear, without hesitation. Go out and proclaim this joy which is for all the people.”
Francis reflected on a series of names from the book of Isaiah that Christians ascribe to Jesus. Isaiah, the pope said, “presents Jesus to us as “Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”
“Go out to others and share the good news that God, our Father, walks at our side,” Francis said. “He frees us from anonymity, from a life of emptiness and selfishness, and brings us to the school of encounter.”
“God is living in our cities,” he said. “The Church is living in our cities, and she wants to be like yeast in the dough.”
Mass goers were required to be seated about three hours before the liturgy began, but they were treated to a concert starring Jennifer Hudson, Gloria Estefan, and Harry Connick Jr.
Before Mass, Francis took a quick ride in the popemobile through a small section of Central Park, where 80,000 people waited for hours to catch a glimpse of the pontiff. An unprecedented security operation is in place in New York City, and so Francis did not emerge from the modified Jeep to greet well-wishers.
After spending just 39 hours here — during which he delivered an address to the United Nations General Assembly, took part in an interfaith prayer service at Ground Zero, and visited a Catholic school in Harlem — Francis will depart for Philadelphia Saturday morning to help close out the World Meeting of Families.