WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — Pope Francis is called the pope of the people, and on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., he showed firsthand how he has earned the reputation – greeting crowds with smiles and waves throughout the day.
Late Wednesday afternoon, the pope held his first mass in the United States, where he canonized a missionary from California.
As CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported, late Wednesday night, crews were dismantling the stage and taking away the altar following the pope’s mass, but it was a religious experience that touched something deep inside many in the crowd.
At the end of the mass, Vice President Joe Biden led the applause. And as Cardinal Donald Wuerl embraced the pontiff, there was a look of delight on Pope Francis’ face.
It was a feeling certainly shared by the faithful.
“It was amazing — so emotional. I just – his presence, you know, so holy,” said Sally Liska of Hyattsville, Maryland.
A crowd of 25,000 people washed in brilliant sunshine were united in faith and in love for the charismatic and humble Holy Father.
The time leading up to the mass was very trying, with too few security lines and no dedicated line for wheelchair users. As a result, wait times were up to three hours.
But once inside, the mood improved. Souvenir shops were packed, and almost everyone went home with something featuring Francis’ smiling face.
Worshipers came from every corner of the continent, with a large contingent from California. They were especially excited for the canonization of Junipero Serra, an 18th century Franciscan who evangelized native peoples.
But Serra is not a universally revered figure. He also set in motion forces that destroyed Native American culture, many critics say.
“The mission system he brought with him created total destruction of who we were as a people and our culture,” said Corinna Gould.
But University of California professor Steven Hackel said: “Serra doesn’t see that. He sees Indians as naked, as hungry, as hungering literally for food and for salvation in Christ.”
It was the first ever canonization on U.S. soil.
The basilica is adjacent to the campus of Catholic University of America, and thousands of CUA students attended – including Emma Flynn of Yonkers.
“Definitely something that brings a lot of blessings and grace, and it will bring peace to our campus,” she said.
Earlier, cheering crowds, with some people holding out babies for blessings, jammed a parade route along Constitution Avenue as Francis later made a leisurely loop around the streets near the White House in his open-sided white Jeep for his first direct encounter with the American public.
As CBS2’s Maurice DuBois reported, Sofi Cruz, 5, suddenly jumped the barricade as if on cue — and caught the pontiff’s eye during the parade. Before officers escorted her away, Pope Francis called her over, embraced her, accepted her gifts, and created a lasting memory.
The gifts included a letter asking Pope Francis to prevent her family from being deported to Mexico.
Pope Francis made an emotional connection with people who came from far and wide to see him.
“It was excellent; great; something to see – a once-in-a-lifetime type of thing to see,” said Andre Dewindt of Hollis, Queens. “And when he gets to New York, I’m going to see him again.”
Another woman from Brazil said she didn’t see anything with her own eyes, but her camera caught video of the popemobile.
It was just a glimpse a brief moment in time the Holy Father’s vehicle rounding the bend. It was a good hundred yards away down the street, but the ripple in the crowd, the excitement and the roar could still be felt.
True to form, when the Pontiff began the day at the White House, he arrived for all the pageantry and majesty of the moment in his little black Fiat.
The pope jumped into current issues at the White House, calling for action to combat climate change. He said it is a problem that “can no longer be left to a future generation.”
President Barack Obama welcomed Francis to the White House before an adoring crowd of thousands.
Speaking in a soft voice and halting English, Francis delivered a strong message against those who doubt the science of climate change, saying that the warming planet “demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition” of conditions awaiting today’s children.
“To use a telling phrase of the Reverend Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honor it,” he said.
Vanessa, of Queens, watched the pope on TV with a youth group at the Shrine Church of St. Gerard Majella. She told WCBS 880’s Ginny Kosola she was pleased to hear Francis talk about climate change.
“So many controversies and he’s standing up for what he believes in and he’s always telling people like this is right whether you think so or you don’t think so,” she said.
Father Joseph Jude Gannon said he was not surprised.
“It’s right out of Genesis, it’s right out of the social teaching of the church as well to be united to God’s creation and a special way to take care of it, to be respectful of it,” he said.