PHILADEPHIA -- More than an expected million people listened raptly as Pope Francis led the final Mass of his historic nine-day trip through Cuba and the U.S. on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in this city of Brotherly Love.
"Love is shown by little things," the pontiff said in a homily in which he talked of the importance of family values. "Faith grows when it is practiced. It is shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes are true domestic churches."
He asked people to speak to each other with "love and tenderness" and care for each other with patience and gentleness -- starting with the family.
"A family that shows the Spirit is alive and at work will encounter our gratitude and our appreciation. Whatever the family, people, region or religion to which they belong," he said.
Toward the end of the homily he looked out on to the sea of worshippers of different ages and nationalities in front of him and said, "How many of us are here at this celebration? This is itself, something prophetic, a kind of miracle in today's world. Would that we could all be prophets."
The pope wondered aloud "how beautiful it would be if everywhere, even beyond our borders we could appreciate and encourage this prophecy and this miracle."
Just after 4 p.m., the pontiff had began the service. Francis, speaking in English, led the crowd in making the sign of the cross.
"In the name of the father, the son and the holy spirit," he said. "Peace be with you."
The throng responded: "And also with you."
The pope wore a green garment with gold trimming and sat on a large chair at the center of the altar as the Liturgy of the Word began with a Spanish reading of Numbers 11:25-29.
It continued interspersed with chanting, psalms, "Alleluia"s and organ music. Incense was lit and words from the Gospel of Mark were chanted as the pope sat, a silver scepter in his hand.
At 4:25, the pope began his homily.
The previously uproarious growd remained largely silent during the Mass, listening intently but for when they followed along with the choir.
Francis, speaking in Spanish with a translation provided on the Jumbotrons, began by telling the crowd that it is God that provides "powerful and thought-provoking images."
"Images which challenge us, but also stir our enthusiasm," Francis said.
Departing from the more accessible tone of some of his other addressees, which often touched on American social and political issues, Francis' final homily in the U.S. delved deep into scripture, spirituality and Jesus' love.
"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," the pontiff said, according to the English transcript of his prepared remarks, which were delivered in Spanish. "God wants all his children to take part in the feast of the Gospel."
Still, Francis found the opportunity to once again touch on the importance of an inclusive church.
"To raise doubt about the working of the [Holy] 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."
Francis, who has promoted family values repeatedly over the last week leading up to the World Meeting of Families, said that happiness and holiness often come in "little gestures" learned at home.
"They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmother, by fathers and grandfathers, by children," Francis said. "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."
Francis said such "Homely gestures" of love, however small, help shape, and grow, faith.
"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," he said. "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 tells us not to hold back these little miracles," Francis said.
Francis said Jesus encourages "all these little signs of love as signs of his own living and active presence in our world."
To raise children in such an environment, Francis said people need to look outside their bounds of the immediate family. "It is the Spirit who challenges us to respond as part of the great human family," said Francis, who said the church 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."
Francis said that, for all their shortcomings, people have shown they are "capable of boundless generosity" in how they treat children. On behalf of all Christians, the people asked all the families of the world to help spread God's goodness.
The pope expressed the church's appreciation for any family that "teaches children to be excited by every gesture aimed at overcoming evil."
The crowd, as large as it was, was quiet and respectful, listening intently to the service -- especially the pope's words -- and watching in silence as the Liturgy of the Eucharist began and the pope held up the blessed wafer.
"I feel like I've been lifted up," Donna DeGiovine, 66, a nurse practioner from Carlstadt, New Jersey, said after the pope finished his homily. "I hope this will be a change for myself. I want to be a better person."
The pope is "committed to people who have no voice," she said . "That's because he's been out on the streets of Buenos Aires. He knows."
Melissa Bowen, 37, and her husband, Joseph, 33, arrived at the Ben Franklin parkway six hours before the mass began so they could get a decent view of the altar . They had tickets to get in and stayed at the same spot the entire time.
The Philadelphia residents said they were proud of how the city handled the pope's visit and that the massive crowd was a salute to him.
"I think it's a testament to the fact this pope has been very welcoming and more contemporary perhaps than previous pope's," Joseph Bowen said.
Not all of the enormous crowd could partake in the communion. A small number of attendees was to receive the Eucharist from the Holy Father. Among them was a family from Cuba that included an elderly woman in a wheelchair.
"All who are not receiving Holy Communion are encouraged to express in their hearts a prayerful desire for unity with the Lord Jesus and with one another," said the liturgy distributed to the crowd.
Priests fanned out onto the parkway preparing to deliver the Eucharist. Apparently so they could be as visible as possible, they walked with white and yellow umbrellas with the World Meeting of Families symbol on them. Communion was followed with a silent prayer, as overcast skies began to darken.
At the conclusion of the Mass, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput thanked organizers, volunteers, clergy and the crowd on the parkway for taking part in "a week of fellowship and blessings."
"None of us will forget these days for the rest of our lives," he said.
"Most of all," Chaput thanked Francis for leading them and for "bringing your spirit to our city and to the world."
A thundering standing ovation followed.
The pontiff had headed to the Mass in his signature "popemobile," waving at the screaming crowds as he cruised along the parkway in a motorcade that included several security vehicles. Along the way he stopped at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul to visit a shrine of the Virgin Mary.
A symphony began playing as the pope's arrival grew imminent. The faithful got louder and pressed closer to the steel barricades, holding up their phones to take photos. Some had climbed up trees or up lamp posts in search of a better vantage point.
The parade stopped several times for Francis to kiss a number of babies passed to him by security personnel. The pope spent a little more time with a disabled boy, caressing his head.
Every kiss of a baby drew huge responses from the crowd near the Mass' center staging area, who watched the procession on giant video screens.
Even at 9 a.m. the area for the Mass, which is part of the Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families conference, had a sizeable crowd and it was growing.
Denise Jordan of Newtown Square, Pa., said "I have butterflies and a grateful feeling in my heart that I'm here."
Doug and Julie Bauman, of Indianapolis, had arrived around dawn, nabbing a spot nearer the stage. They waited wearing homemade paper mitres-the ceremonial head dress traditionally worn by the pope. Written on Doug's "mitre" was "Francis Fan Club," while Julie's said "We've got Francis Fever."
"We decided to come as early as we could," Doug Bauman said.
The couple were part of a group of eight people who attended the conference this week.
Julie Bauman described the week-long conference as "life-changing" and "inspiring."
Also among the early arrivals at the stage area were Michael and Patricia Lundy, formerly of Valley Stream and now living in Wilmington, Delaware, who said they are part of the 500-voice papal choir that will sing as part of services. Patricia said every voice in the choir is "blessed."
"There have been many rehearsals," Michael Lundy said. "It's been a long road to get here today but we're excited."
Around 2 p.m. the multi-racial choir took its place in a section that is among the audience. Some wore blue robes; other black robes. Children dressed all in white.
In the crowd, worshippers passed the time singing songs in English and Spanish, including "Hallelujah." When a large white tent obscured the musicians' area, the crowd chanted "Put the tent down," and celebrated when it was finally dismantled.
Father and so Nick Trotto III and Nick Trotto IV of Gloucester, New Jersey, have coveted tickets that put them inside the seating area near the altar, and were excited about what awaited this afternoon.
The elder Trotto said he experienced Pope John Paul II's visit to Philadelphia in 1979 in person. "So I definitely wanted to be back," said Trotto, among the scores of followers who gathered on the shut down street in Center City.
"It's exciting to see a different side of Philadelphia," Trotto's son, a 17-year-old high school senior, said.
Other pilgrims lining the majestic in droves said they have delighted in the communal spirit they have encountered and meeting people from all over the world who have converged on the city for the World Meeting of Families.
Dawn Schaaf of Erie, Pa., who attended the families with 83 pilgrims from the parish in Erie, recalled meeting people from Vietnam and other countries while waiting for the pope behind barricades on the parkway.
As she awaited the mass, Schaaf said the pope epitomized Saint Francis of Assisi, from whom his papal name derives.
"What St. Francis of Assisi was, Pope Francis is for the 21st Century." She said she wanted to "breathe his air. It is a feeling of the heart."
Thomas Stiglich of Jenkintown, Pa., said, "I'm a devout Catholic. I love Pope Francis and I'm excited to be in the crowd and with fellow Catholics."
Mark Connors of Northeast Philadelphia, was back for a second day at the Eakins Oval section of the parkway that is closest to the altar. On Saturday, he was just 15 feet away when Pooe Francis went by in the Popemobile.
"It was a thrill to see him up close," said Connors. "He's such an awesome pope."
Kenyan native Josphat Kamau, 50, who lives in Bound Brook, New Jersey, said he came "to be blessed by the Pope himself."
He hoped to get blessings for his future and for his wife and three children still living in Nakuru, Kenya.
He brought his Holy Rosary- which he called his "weapon," that hung around his neck. He carried his Holy Cross in a wrinkled paper bag.
"Now when I am blessed, I am blessed for my life," said Kamau, a member of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Bound Brook.