NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — It was a full and emotional whirlwind of a day for Pope Francis, crisscrossing the city in his famous Fiat to a throng of adoring fans everywhere he went.
As CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported, the pope retired at the nuncio residence on East 72nd Street around 8 p.m. But before that, he inspired and enchanted people from one end of Manhattan to the other.
The pope began with an address to the United Nations General Assembly Friday morning, where he declared that there is a “right of the environment” and that mankind has no authority to abuse it. He told more than 100 world leaders and diplomats at the United Nations that urgent action is needed to halt the destruction of God’s creation.
Hoping to spur concrete commitments at upcoming climate change negotiations in Paris, Francis accused the world’s powerful countries of indulging a “selfish and boundless thirst” for money by ravaging the planet’s natural resources and impoverishing the weak and disadvantaged in the process.
“The misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion,” he said.
He asserted that the poor have inherent rights to education, religious freedom and other civil rights as well as lodging, labor and land.
Francis’ speech, the fifth by a pope to the UN, was a distillation of his recent teaching document on the environment, “Praise Be,” which has delighted liberals and environmentalists and drawn scorn from big business interests.
Pope Francis went on to hold an interfaith service at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, for which he was the highest and holiest profile visitor to date.
Pope Francis presided over services in Foundation Hall alongside the Slurry Wall and the Last Column. About a dozen religious leaders from the Jewish, Muslim, Greek Orthodox, Hindu and other faiths stood behind the pope as he prayed at the opening of the service.
The Holy Father asked God for eternal peace for those killed, as well as healing for the relatives of the victims. He prayed to God to bring “peace to our violent world” and “to turn to your way of love” those who justify killing in the name of religion.
Francis’ prayer was followed by meditations of peace led by religious leaders from Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian and Muslim faiths, some of which were read in sacred tongues while others were in English.
Pope Francis drew much fanfare in the afternoon as a crowd of young and old snapped pictures and selfies with him at Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem.
A line of children shrieked and chanted “Holy Father, we love you!” as he made his way along a barricade outside of the school.
A beaming pope blessed them, shaking hands and posing for a few selfies. Some children embraced him, but a security guard intervened when one girl gave him a big hug.
Web Extra: Pope Visits East Harlem School
Meanwhile, a group of 24 third and fourth grade Catholic school students got the chance to be in very same room as the pope, singing for Francis himself. The group represents four Catholic schools in the city, each child picked from a drawing.
Pope Francis took time to walk around the classroom and greet each individual student. As he circulated around the room, the children each described projects that they are working on.
On a smart board, two young students pulled up a message for the pope that read “We also thank God for the gift of having you as our pope.” The message was also written in Spanish.
Late in the afternoon, at least 80,000 people packed Central Park as Pope Francis waved with a beaming smile from the Popemobile in a procession along the West Drive.
The pope’s procession didn’t start until after 5 p.m., but spectators started lining up early Friday morning. The gates opened at 11 a.m., and the line even to get to the security checkpoint took two hours even that early.
But by the time the procession came around, there even seemed to be a rainbow overhead.
“Definitely worth the wait on line,” one woman told WCBS 880’s Ginny Kosola. “I think God must have helped us get close up because I was in the second row, and I looked into his eyes, and it was like the mirrors of his soul. And I’ll never forget that look. Tears came down.”
Finally, thousands packed Madison Square Garden to hear Pope Francis celebrate mass. An estimated 18,000 people attended the service, which started around 6 p.m. and lasted about an hour and a half.
The service began with Francis making a lap of the arena floor in a golf cart to huge cheers, and it ended with a resounding applause and standing ovation.
The pope waved, smiled and accepted some flowers and other gifts. On a second lap that took him down the middle aisle, he stopped at one point, apparently to bless some children.
As the pope moved through the crowd, some were overcome with tears of joy as Pope Francis gave his blessings. Feeling the gravity of the momentous occasion, the crowd rose to its feet as the pontiff’s procession made its way to the stage.
Francis emphasized a point he has made throughout his U.S. trip: the need to welcome foreigners and marginalized people. He praised big cities for their diversity and culture but warned that they can also make their people feel they don’t belong, shunning them and treating them like second-class citizens.
In his homily, delivered in Spanish, he also cited “children who go without schooling, those deprived without medical insurance, the homeless, the forgotten elderly.”
He said God “frees us from anonymity, from a life of emptiness and selfishness.” He also said, “God is living in our cities,” and so is the church.
He concluded the service with the customary “go in peace and serve the Lord” and added, “Please, I ask you, don’t forget to pray for me.”
By his preference, Francis sat in a simple oak chair built by day laborers working for a charity, rather than by expert craftsmen.
As people left, it was clear that the experience had changed lives.
“He talked about seeing the face of Christ in the people of the city. That resonated with me,” said Sister Margaret O’Brien. “It’s part of the way I live anyway.”
When the mass ended, people rushed to grab the white roses that decorated the front of the stage at Madison Square Garden. Many were surely placed in family Bibles soon afterward.
Pope Francis’ visit to New York City will end Saturday morning at 8:40 a.m., when he will fly to Philadelphia.
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