After his historic, first-ever visit to the United States, Pope Francis said he was surprised by “the warmth of the people, who are so lovable.”
The Pope spent 45 minutes speaking with the media aboard the American Airlines flight that carried him back to Rome after his nine-day visit to Cuba and the United States, and answered a series of questions.
He said the trip was “beautiful” and summed up the welcome he received in the three cities of his tour by saying that in Washington the welcome was “warm but more formal”; in New York the people were “exuberant” and in Philadelphia they were “very expressive.”
The Pope also said he was “very struck” by the kindness of the people and by their “piety and religiosity,” evidenced during the religious ceremonies.
“You could see the people pray and this struck me a lot,” he said. It was “beautiful.”
The Pope also said that everything about the trip went smoothly and there were no provocations, insults or anything of the sort.
The Pope reserved special praise for the work of the religious sisters in the United States.
“The sisters in the United States have done marvels in the field of education and in the field of health. The people of the United States love the sisters. I don’t know how much they love the priests (laughter), but they love the sisters, they love them so much.”
“They are great, they are great, great, great women,” he said. “And that’s why I felt the obligation to say thank you for all they have done.”
Francis said that the challenge now for the Church in the United States is “to accompany people in their growth—through the good times but also through the difficult ones—accompanying people in their joy and in their bad moments, in their difficulties when there is no work or ill health.”
“The Church’s challenge is to stay close to the people, close to the people of the United States. Not a Church detached from the people but one that is close to them, close, close and this is something that the Church in America has understood, and understood well,” he said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams Twitter@tdwilliamsrome