NEW YORK (NBC News) – Pope Francis ended a busy day in New York by celebrating Mass before thousands at Madison Square Garden, urging his urban audience to live their faith by rejecting self-absorption and remembering the forgotten and needy.
“God is in the city,” he said in his homily, delivered in Spanish.
The audience applauded, unusual for a Mass but understandable given the excitement his presence in New York has generated.
Life isn’t easy in our cities, Francis said. Still, they “are reminders of the hidden riches present in our world: in the diversity of its cultures, traditions and historical experiences, in the variety of its languages, costumes and cuisines. Big cities bring together all the different ways which we human beings have discovered to express the meaning of life, wherever we may be.”
Francis, who has prioritized the plights of immigrants and the poor, said it was also easy in urban environments to let marginalized people go unseen.
“In big cities, beneath the roar of traffic, beneath the rapid pace of change, so many faces pass by unnoticed because they have no right to be there, no right to be part of the city,” Francis said.
“They are the foreigners, their children who go without school, those deprived medical insurance, the homeless, the forgotten elderly. These people stand at the edge of our avenues and our streets in deafening anonymity. They become part of an urban landscape that is more and more taken for granted in our eyes, and especially in our hearts.”
But there is hope for them, and for everyone, Francis said.
“Knowing that Jesus still walks our streets, that he is vitally a part of the lives of his people, that he is involved with us in a vast history of salvation, fills us with hope, a hope which liberates us from the forces pushing use toward isolation and lack of concern for the lives of others, for the life of our city,” Francis said.
He implored the city’s people to “go out and show that God is in your midst.”
“He frees us from anonymity, from a life of emptiness and selfishness, and brings us to the school of encounter,” Francis said. “He removes us from the fray of competition and self-absorption, and he opens before us the path of peace. That peace which is born of accepting others, that peace which fills our hearts whenever we look upon those in need as our brothers and sisters.”
Francis arrived at the arena after a visit to the United Nations, Ground Zero, a Catholic school in East Harlem, and a ride through Central Park as tens of thousands cheered him on.
He entered in a golf cart, drawing cheers from the estimated crowd of 20,000 who waited in line for hours to attend.
The pope waved, smiled and accepted some flowers and other gifts. At one point he stopped and appeared to bless some children.
He sat on a simple oak chair built by day laborers working for a charity, according to his own request.
At the service’s conclusion, Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, stood and, beaming with pride, addressed the momentous occasion.
Facing Francis — Dolan called him “Papa Francesco” — the archbishop noted that New York’s Catholics prayed for him every day. “And now, here you are.”
The audience responded with a long, sustained applause.
“Thanks for visiting us, your family,” Dolan said.
Francis smiled. He departed with a final request: “Don’t forget to pray for me.”