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Continuing his American tour, Pope Francis arrived in New York City Thursday afternoon, where he was greeted by a crowd of thousands along Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, and then led evening prayers at St. Patrick's Cathedral.
More than 1,000 priests were in attendance, in the newly renovated cathedral, among the crowd of more than 2,400 people.
As he made his way to the front of the church, Francis turned to a girl in a wheelchair and blessed her.
Francis then opened his remarks for the Thursday vespers, or evening service, with a greeting for his “Muslim brothers and sisters” and expressing sorrow “in the face of tragedy” suffered near Mecca, where a horrific stampede left 700 people dead.
“At this moment I assure you of our prayers,” he said, beginning his homily in Spanish.
Francis also spoke of the spirit of gratitude, generosity and warned of the dangers of materialism and “worldly comforts.”
“Little by little, it diminishes our spirit of sacrifice,” he said, adding that it “alienates us” from those suffer poverty.
Francis received mass applause when he gave thanks to the nuns and religious women of the United States.
“What would the church be without you?” he asked, praising their strength and “spirit of courage.”
“To you, religious women, sisters and mothers of these people, I wish to say thank you,” he said.
Following his homily, Francis received a standing ovation.
After the service, Francis left St. Patrick’s in a motorcade, heading toward the Vatican’s diplomatic residence on the Upper East Side.
Francis' other stops in New York City include the United Nations and Madison Square, as well as a somber visit to the September 11 Memorial. And there's a processional through the famed Central Park.
Spending just under two days in the city, Pope Francis will be following the steps of millions of T-shirt-clad sightseers.
The pope arrived in New York Thursday after taking off from Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington on Thursday afternoon.
At the top of the steps to the airplane, he turned, removed his white skull cap, smiled and waved goodbye.
He flew into Kennedy Airport, where his greeting party included Cardinal Timothy Dolan and 200 indigent people. After a helicopter ride from Queens to Manhattan, Francis then took his motorcade along Fifth Avenue for the service at St. Patrick's.
The streets were lined with throngs of Francis fans who'd waited for hours — if not a lifetime — to see the pope.
"It was like feeling the Holy Spirit over everyone. He represent Jesus christ so it was the Holy Spirit here to reaffirm our faith," said Teddy Thongratnachat, 23, a student at New York's John Jay College who caught a glimpse of the pope on his way to the church. "It was just happiness and joy to be one with the church in communion with Christ."
He added, "When you see the pope you'll feel the Holy Spirit that's what is tell everyone."
"Words cannot express, it's a nice feeling. I was screaming it was so joyful," said Nancy Williams, 54, who works for the NYC Board of Education, and waited in the crowd to see the pontiff. "It's like a wedding, I will never forget it."
Pope Francis started his Manhattan trip in his familiar Fiat 500 before switching to the open-air Popemobile along Fifth Avenue. The pontiff was greeted by cathedral bells and the cheers of thousands outside St. Patrick’s where he was met by both New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio.
"I was raised Catholic and I’ve been to Rome and been to the Vatican, never caught a glimpse of the pope there," said New Yorker Julian Dearmas, 50. "But I’m more so here for my mom who recently passed away because she would have done anything to be here today, more for her than for me that I would like to see him."
Sylvia Arce, 39, was in town from Fracis' home country of Argentina.
"I saw him when he wasn’t pope ... now I would like to see him again as the pope, so we are very emotional and want to see him," said Arce. "For me he is the best pope in the world — I think he did a lot of good things and I would like to see him."
The pontiff speaks to the U.N. General Assembly on Friday, then visits the 9/11 Memorial and goes to Madison Square Garden for a Mass with thousands of people.
Then it's on to Philadelphia for the weekend.
Francis made a last round of greetings and selfies with Washington-area students, pausing to pat a little girl's face and touch boys' heads as he made his way to the black Fiat carrying him to Andrews Air Force Base.