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Pope Francis' final Mass at World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia

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'Faith grows when it is practiced and it is shaped by love'

Pope Francis' final US Mass was held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Sunday afternoon following a motorcade through Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The pontiff's homily included the importance of the Holy Spirit, community and family.

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Pope Francis was cheered in Logan Square as he made his way to the World Meeting of Families. In an unscheduled stop, the pontiff stepped off the popemobile to visit a grotto born of artist Meg Saligman's creativity. He then blessed the ribbons, which created a touching moment reflected by the stir of the crowd. The grotto was based on the painting "Mary, Undoer of Knots."

The piece was a grotto formed by white ribbons that people wrote their problems on. They were then encouraged to remove an existing ribbon and pray for the writer. Saligman explained, "It's a grotto made of struggles, where people can come and leave their problems and perhaps carry someone's load for a little bit. This is just the beginning . We keep playing with it."

In his final parade in Philadelphia, Pope Francis' entourage took its time so the pope could greet people, kiss babies and bless people.

Children offered the pontiff gifts and were cheered as they returned to the crowd after being blessed.

Security could be seen accepting infants from the crowd to take to Pope Francis. On his way to the papal mass, the sun began to peek through the clouds for the first time that a cloudy day, adding to the magic of the moment.

Thousands massed to hear Pope Francis' final American mass and all fell silent in anticipation of the pontiff's arrival.

The crowd offered applause as the pope arrived. He immediately paid his respects with incense and led the crowd in confession.

Following a reading in Spanish from the Bible, the choir came in and offered lyrics in different languages and there were more readings from Catholic clergy serving as representatives of United States immigrants.

Pope Francis observed the proceedings with a tired expression -an indication of how little time he had to rest during his visit to the United States. After the readings, the pontiff stood and began his homily:

"Today the word of God surprises us with powerful and thought-provoking images. Images which challenge us but also stir our enthusiasm. In the first reading, Joshua tells Moses that two members of the people are prophesying, speaking God's word, without a mandate. In the Gospel, John tells Jesus that the disciples had stopped someone from casting out evil spirits in the name of Jesus.

"Here is the surprise: Moses and Jesus both rebuke those closest to them for being so narrow. Would that all could be prophets of God's word. Would that everyone could work miracles in the Lord's name.

"Jesus instead encountered from people who did not accept what he said and did. For them, his openness to the honest and sincere faith of many men and women who were not part of God's chosen people seemed intolerable. The disciples, for their part, acted in good faith. But the temptation to be scandalized by the freedom of God -who sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous alike- bypassing bureaucracy, officialdom and inner circles, threatens the authenticity of faith. Hence it must be vigorously rejected.

"Once we realize this, we can understand why Jesus' words about causing scandal are so harsh. For Jesus, the truly intolerable scandal consists in everything that breaks down and destroys our trust in the working of the Spirit.

"Our Father will not be outdone in generosity and he continues to scatter seeds. He scatters the seeds of his presence in our world, for love consists in this, not that we have loved God but that he loved us first. That love gives us a profound certainty: we are sought by God; he waits for us.

"It is this confidence which makes disciples encourage, support, and nurture the good things happening all around them. God wants all his children to take part in the feast of the Gospel. Jesus says, 'Do not hold back anything that is good; instead help it to grow.' To raise doubts about the working of the Spirit, to give the impression that it cannot take place in those who are not part of our group, who are not like us, is a dangerous temptation. Not only does it block conversion to the faith; it is a perversion of faith.

"Faith opens a window to the presence and working of the Spirit. It shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures. 'Whoever gives you a cup of water in my name will not go unrewarded,' says Jesus. These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different.

"They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children. They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion. Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work. Homely gestures.

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"Like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day's work. Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life to become faith.

"Jesus invites us not to hold back these little miracles. Instead, he wants us to encourage them, to spread them. He asks us to go through life, our everyday life, encouraging all these little signs of love as signs of his own living and active presence in our world.

"This action that we are invited to participate in leads us to ask ourselves: 'How are we trying to live this way in our homes, in our societies? What kind of world do we want to leave to our children?' We cannot answer these questions alone, by ourselves. It is the Spirit who challenges us to respond as part of the great human family. Our common house can no longer tolerate sterile divisions.

"The urgent challenge of protecting our home includes the effort to bring the entire human family together in the pursuit of a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. May our children find in us models and incentives of communion, not of division. May our children find in us men and women capable of joining others in bringing to full flower all the good seeds which the Father has sown.

"Pointedly, yet affectionately, Jesus tells us, 'If you, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?' How much wisdom there is in these few words. It is true that, as far as goodness and purity of heart are concerned, we human beings don't have much to show but Jesus knows that -where children are concerned- we are capable of boundless generosity. So he reassures us; if only we have faith, the Father will give us His Spirit.
 

"We Christians, the Lord's disciples, ask the families of the world to help us. How many of us are here participating at this celebration and this is, in itself, something prophetic; a kind of miracle in today's world. This world, tired of inventing new divisions, new forms of brokenness, our disasters. Would that we could all be prophets. Would that all of us could be open to miracles of love for the sake of all the families of the world, and thus overcome the scandal of a narrow, petty love, closed in on itself, impatient of others.

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"And I leave you with a question, a question for each of you to answer because I said 'impatient:' in my own home do we shout or do we speak to each other in love and tenderness? That's a good way of measuring our love. How beautiful it would be if everywhere, even beyond our borders, we could appreciate and encourage this prophecy and this miracle.

"Let us renew our faith in the word of the Lord which invites faithful families to this openness. It invites all those who want to share the prophecy of the covenant of man and woman, which generates life and reveals God, that he help us participate in this prophecy of peace, of tenderness, and of family kindness, that he help us to participate in the prophetic gesture of caring tenderly, patiently, and lovingly. To care for our children and our grandparents.

"Anyone who wants to bring into this world a family which teaches children to be excited by every gesture aimed at overcoming evil -a family which shows that the Spirit is alive and at work- will encounter our gratitude and our appreciation regardless of what people, region, or religion to which they belong.

"May God grant to all of us to be prophets of the joy of the Gospel. Of the Gospel of family and of the love of the family. To be prophets as the Lord's disciples and may God grant us the grace to be worthy of this purity of heart which is not scandalized by the Gospel. May it be so."

Everyone was then to observe silence following the pope's homily. Following the silence, the choir performed and Pope Francis asked that God hear our prayers. Several families approached the pontiff for his blessing as the choir sang out into the crowd.

The Holy Communion commenced quickly as the pontiff wasted no time in the continuance of the ceremony, which continued for nearly half an hour as the choirs sang out and thousands accepted communion.

Following the Holy Communion, all observed silence to pray. After the silence, Pope Francis led a prayer and returned to his seat to listen as a procession of thanks ensued. Several Catholic officials thanked the pontiff and audience for their attendance and several Bible verses were shared. It was announced that the next World Meeting of Families would be held in Dublin, Ireland 2018.

A Syrian family was introduced to the pontiff and a gift was given to them. Following a collection from the crowds, money was donated to the family as "a sign of our love and our closeness to these people and for the city... May peace come to Syria."

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Several families were presented to Pope Francis, who blessed them each before closed the ceremony with a blanket blessing: "God bless you all. Thank you very much for your participation and for your love for the family and I ask you pray for me. Don't forget."
 
The final portion of the blessing elicited laughter from the crowd that turned to loud cheers and whistles.

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