Pope Francis ditched his prepared remarks on Saturday night to deliver an off-the-cuff monologue about the importance of family, joking about mothers-in-law and heated quarrels before driving home his message.
Francis spoke Saturday to close out the World Meeting of Families, a Vatican-sponsored conference and festival for more than 18,000 people from around the world, in Philadelphia.
"Defend the family, because that's where our future will play out," Francis said.
The pope remarked on the goodness and beauty of the family, but added: "Some of you might say, of course, 'Father, you speak like that because you're not married!'"
"Families have the difficulties. Families, we quarrel, and sometimes plates can fly. And children bring headaches — I won't speak about mother in laws," Francis joked. "But in families there is always light, because the love of God, and son of God, opened also that path for us."
Six families from around the world shared their stories of love, faith and hardship before the pontiff, and there were musical performances from Aretha Franklin, Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, The Fray and others.
Actor and producer Mark Wahlberg emceed the event, and told the crowd that despite his past successes, "I feel most blessed today being on stage with the Holy Father and here with all my fellow Christians."
Wahlberg also got in a joke about his raunchy comedy “Ted.” After Bobby Hill, 14, of the Keystone State Boychoir performed an opera solo, he told Wahlberg that he liked his performance in the movie about an angry talking teddy bear.
"He whispered in my ear that he liked the movie 'Ted,'" Wahlberg said. "I told him that was not appropriate for his age. Holy Father, please forgive me."
Comedian Jim Gaffigan warmed up the crowd and Sister Sledge performed “We Are Family” before the pope arrived.
A cheer went up from the huge crowds lining the streets as Francis made his way in the Popemobile to the broad Benjamin Franklin Parkway at around 7 p.m. The crowd was not told in advance that the pope was arriving, prompting an exuberant response when the pontiff was sighted.
The pope repeated his concern over humankind's impact on the environment.
"God made this marvelous world in which we live, and because sometimes we are a bit confused, we are destroying it," Francis said. "But the most beautiful thing that God did, says the Bible, was the family."
Francis urged the crowd to especially care for the young as well as the old. "To look after grandparents, to look after children, is the expression of love," he said.
The pontiff also gave this advice: "Never let the day end without making peace,” Francis said. “In a family, you can’t finish the day off not being at peace.”
The pope will celebrate Francis will celebrate Mass on the Parkway on Sunday. It will be Francis’ final Mass of his U.S. visit.