NEW YORK • Pope Francis has crowned a packed tour of New York by celebrating mass at Madison Square Garden (MSG), after greeting crowds in Central Park and praying for world peace at the 9/11 Memorial.
Around 20,000 people packed into MSG last Friday, the home of the Knicks basketball team, to take communion in the presence of the 78-year-old Argentine pontiff.
The city's premier concert venue was turned into a serene and beautiful venue for Catholics to celebrate mass.
The hugely popular Pope focused on society's most vulnerable during his last public remarks in America's financial capital, a city of extreme wealth and poverty. He praised big cities for their diversity but called on worshippers not to forget "the faces of all those people who don't appear to belong, or are second- class citizens". "They are the foreigners, the children who go without schooling, those deprived of medical insurance, the homeless, the forgotten elderly," he said.
It marked his last public engagement in New York before leaving for Philadelphia, where he was set to greet huge crowds at the Festival of Families, which takes place every three years.
Earlier last Friday, he led a gathering of 700 at Ground Zero, where he paid tribute to the nearly 3,000 victims and those who were first in line responding to the Sept 11, 2001 attacks. The head of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics led a multi-faith prayer for world peace, bringing together Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Greek Orthodox, Muslim and Jewish leaders. "I hope our presence here sends a powerful sign of our wish to share and reaffirm the wish to be forces of reconciliation, forces of peace, of justice," he said.
Pope Francis also visited Central Park, where he was greeted by a sea of 80,000 people - many of them Latino immigrants.
The Pope had begun the day at the United Nations General Assembly by offering his vision of a better world in a speech. He touched on the persecution of Christians, his endorsement of the Iran nuclear deal, drug trafficking "silently killing millions", and the rights of girls to an education. But at the UN, he also signalled that the church was not ready to champion transgender rights, an issue of growing importance in the United States as gay equality becomes mainstream.
"We recognise a moral law written into human nature itself, one which includes the natural difference between man and woman and absolute respect for life in all its stages and dimensions," he said.