A visibly moved Pope Francis ditched his prepared remarks in speaking to thousands of families gathered in Philadelphia Saturday night – giving an impromptu reflection on the beauty and dire importance of family life.
“The most beautiful thing that God did, the Bible says, was the family,” he said Sept. 26 at the celebration for families on the streets of Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
The Pope voiced his thanks at “the presence of all of you – who are a real witness that it’s worth being a family!” A society “is strong, solid and edified on beauty goodness and truth,” he added.
Pope Francis spoke after intense and often heartrending testimonies of several families from around the globe, who are at the World Meeting of Families, hosted by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The city is the last of three that the Holy Father visited during his Sept. 22 to 27 trip to the United States.
In his first leg of his journey, the Pope addressed a joint session of Congress and met briefly with President Obama in Washington, DC. While in New York City, Pope Francis spoke to the United Nations and met with school children in Harlem.
The lively evening in Philadelphia, moderated by actor Mark Wahlberg, was filled with performances by Aretha Franklin and Andrea Bocelli, as well as the city’s ballet company and rock band The Fray.
Families from as far as Nigeria, Australia, Jordan, Argentina and Ukraine shared their respective stories with the Pope, touching on themes that involved war, disability, economic uncertainty, discrimination and the death of children.
Francis embraced and spoke to each one after their testimonies, opting to set aside his prepared remarks when it came time for his address.
“God’s love is so overflowing that it could not be egoistic, it had to be poured out of him,” the Pope said, explaining that this is what prompted the creation of the world. “Family is really family when it is able to open its arms and receive all that love.”
However, “that love God gave almost was lost,” he said. “In a little time, the first crime, the first instance of fratricide, the first instance of war…men and women, through the astuteness of the devil, have unfortunately learned to divide themselves.”
But God “did not abandon them,” the Pope stressed. “So great was his love that he began to walk with humanity, with his people until the right moment and he made the highest expression of love, his own son.”
“And how did he send his son?” he asked. “Through a family.”
The Pope then joked: “sometimes people tell me ‘Father, you speak like that because you are not married.’ Families have difficulties…families, we quarrel. And sometimes plates can fly. Children bring headaches, and I won’t even speak about mothers-in law…”
“In families there are always difficulties, but those difficulties are overcome by love,” he said. “Hatred is not capable of dealing with any difficulty… Only love is able to overcome them.”
Before giving the final blessing, he told the crowds: “we will see each other for Mass tomorrow – wait, what time is Mass tomorrow?”
“Ah, four o’ clock,” he laughed in response to thunderous cheers.
He then led a prayer to the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, invoking them “to help us believe that it’s worth the struggle and the fight, for the good of the family.”
Tomorrow’s agenda for the Pope’s last day in the U.S. includes a speech to the bishops gathered in Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families, a visit to a correctional facility and Mass downtown.