Pope Francis waves to people as he rides in the popemobile to attend the Festival of Families during the World Meeting of Families Sept. 26 in Philadelphia. (CNS photo/Will Yurman) See POPE-FAMILIES-FESTIVAL Sept. 27, 2015.

Pope Francis waves to people as he rides in the popemobile to attend the Festival of Families during the World Meeting of Families Sept. 26 in Philadelphia. (CNS photo/Will Yurman)

For Mary Jo Ruhland of Assumption Parish in Eden Valley, the four-hour wait on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia to catch a fleeting glimpse of the popemobile as it went by Sept. 26, was definitely worth it.

“It is the steadfastness that people have in their hearts to wait for that moment when he does come,” said Ruhland, who was a few rows back from the street when Pope Francis passed the screaming crowd on his way to speak on the main stage at the Festival of Families. “It’s just like they would have waited all night. There’s just something about his presence. No one else can give it like he does.”

“People around here are from everywhere in the world — it’s such a universal welcome,” she said.

Also in the crowd was Father Mitchell Bechtold, parochial vicar of parishes in Melrose, Greenwald, Meire Grove and Spring Hill who was among the three dozen pilgrims who traveled together from the Diocese of St. Cloud.

“It was certainly worth it,” said Father Bechtold, who got an even closer look at Pope Francis a few years ago in St. Peter’s Square. But seeing the Holy Father on U.S. soil was a different kind of experience, he said.

“Before, I went to his house; now he came to me,” Father Bechtold said. “It felt very appropriate to Francis’ image. He’s the new holy grandfather of sorts. There’s something so ordinary about his approach, as though he could be your own grandfather; as though he’s a part of your family.”

Father Bechtold was impressed by the message of Pope Francis, who threw away a prepared text and, to the delight of the large crowd, spoke from the heart about the challenges and love that come with being part of a family.

“Of all the presentations, performances and the speeches tonight, his was the only one that wasn’t scripted, and it was the very best,” Father Bechtold said. “I liked that it was very personal. I liked that it was very much centered on an elementary catechesis, talking about God’s goodness, God’s beauty and love, and that he created this world in beauty and love and truth, and that we’re a part of that. And, [God] wants that to continue for all eternity, which is why he sent Jesus to lead us home.”

Family life is worth it

After listening to testimony from six families from various continents Sept. 26, Pope Francis thanked them for sharing their stories.

“A witness given in order to serve is thoroughly good, it makes us good persons, because God is goodness,” he began, continuing to increase in speed and emphasis to the delight of the crowd. He smiled, gestured with his hands and the crowd cheered as he said it was “worth being a family.”

People cheer while waiting for Pope Francis to arrive for the Festival of Families during the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia Sept. 26. (CNS photo/Bob Roller) See POPE-FAMILIES-FESTIVAL Sept. 26, 2015.

People cheer while waiting for Pope Francis to arrive for the Festival of Families during the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia Sept. 26. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

God sent his son into a family, he said, “and he could do this because it was a family that had a truly open heart,” he said.

The pope spoke in Spanish, the language in which he is most comfortable; his talk was translated by Msgr. Marc Miles.

“We are celebrating the feast of the family,” he told the crowd. “Families have a citizenship that is divine. The identity card that they have is given to them by God so that within the heart of the family truth, goodness and beauty can truly grow.”

“Some of you might say of course, Father, you speak like that because you’re not married,” he said.

“Families have difficulties. Families — we quarrel, sometimes plates can fly, and children bring headaches. I won’t speak about mother-in-laws,” he quipped.

“However, in families, there is always light” because of the love of God’s son.

“Just as there are problems in families, there is the light of the resurrection,” he said.

“The family is like a factory of hope,” he said.

“In the family, there are indeed difficulties” and children bring challenges, too, he said.

“But those difficulties are overcome with love,” he said. “Hatred is not capable of dealing [with] or overcoming any difficulty. Division of hearts cannot overcome a difficulty; only love can overcome.”

Evening of entertainment

Pope Francis addresses the crowd at the Festival of Families during the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia Sept. 26. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz) See POPE-FAMILIES-FESTIVAL Sept. 27, 2015.

Pope Francis addresses the crowd at the Festival of Families during the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia Sept. 26. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

The three-hour celebration of Catholic family life began as the sun started to set over Philadelphia. The festival included prayer, music, dance, comedy and testimonies of faith and followed on the heels of the eighth World Meeting of Families Sept. 22-25.

Shortly after 7 p.m. the pope began his approach to the festival site in his popemobile, waving to the thousands of people who lined the route. Dozens of flags and banners of different countries hung over steel barricades lining the route into Benjamin Franklin Parkway toward the Festival of Families stage. He mounted the festival stage to raucous cheers, shortly after 7:30 p.m., and led the crowd in a prayer of petition for the family.

Actor Mark Wahlberg emceed the portion of the evening featuring the pope. Among the renowned entertainers to perform for the pope and offer testimonies of faith were American soul singer Aretha Franklin and Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli.

Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla read a letter her mother, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, had penned to her father, bearing witness to their faithful marriage. Six couples from different continents also shared their life stories.

The night before the festival began, people began gathering behind barricades on downtown streets, many sleeping on flattened cardboard boxes and donning Pope Francis T-shirts, World Meeting of Families caps or apparel from their home parishes. Those with tickets started to enter the heavily secured area in the early afternoon, including numerous priests, seminarians and women religious, who sat under a canopy of trees in the cool breeze watching performers practice before the celebration.

In his talk, the pope noted the challenges families face, including quarrels and inimical relationships.

“Never let the day end without making peace,” he said. “A society is strong, it’s solid if it’s edified on beauty, goodness and truth.”

He told those present that God likes most “to knock on the doors of families and to find families that are united, that love each other” and who raise their children in view of creating “a society of truth, goodness and beauty.”

The family must take special care of children and grandparents, he said. Children are “the strength that moves us forward” and “grandparents are the living memory of the family. They pass on the faith; they transmitted the faith to us.”

“To look after grandparents and children is an expression of love,” he said. “A people that does not know how to look after children and grandparents is a people that has no future because it does not have the strength or the memory to go forward.”

Papal Mass is next

The St. Cloud diocesan pilgrims will attend Pope Francis’ Mass on the parkway Sept. 27 — the closing Mass for the World Meeting of Families and the final public event of the pope’s five-day visit to the United States.

Father Bechtold, Father Donald Wagner and Father Oswaldo Roche will be among the concelebrants.

Pope Francis is scheduled earlier in the day to meet with bishops at St. Martin’s Chapel and St. Charles Borromeo Seminary and visit the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility.

Visitor editor Joe Towalski and Catholic News Service contributed to this story.

Click here for a video of Pope Francis passing by on Benjamin Franklin Parkway.