Hundreds of thousands of people packed Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway to see and hear Pope Francis celebrate Mass on Sunday, a glorious finale to a historic two-day visit by a pontiff who spoke loudly for tolerance, brotherhood, and peace.

The huge ceremony at the foot of the Art Museum steps was a moving, religious tribute from a pope who, while here, directly addressed the sick, desperate, and needy.

"Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love," a visibly weary Francis said in his homily. The pope, 78, had been in almost constant, morning-to-night movement since his arrival.

A hush followed the pope's words, as if all of Philadelphia had paused. The quiet was broken only by the cries of children made cranky by crowds and long lines.

Scores of nuns and priests looked on. Children perched on their fathers' shoulders. People of different ethnicities and cultures stood side by side: suburbanites who had battled their way into the city; missionary-driven faithful who had traveled from distant nations to see a beloved pope.

They stood on a Parkway rich in symbolism, where the flags of nations - Guatemala, Greece, Morocco - tell all who see them flying, "You are home."

Heavy security restrictions forced people to walk distances across a city virtually shut down.

Their feet ached, several people said, but their hearts were full.

"It was everything I would have wanted it to have been," said Mary Rose Heller, 49, who was among the thousands receiving Communion during the Mass.

Her 14-year-old daughter, Maggie, dressed in the colors of her Bishop Shanahan High School in Downingtown, said the event was overwhelming.

"I'm just kind of speechless," she said.

Mayor Nutter wasn't. At a Sunday night briefing, he called the pope's visit "wildly successful."

The Mass was the pinnacle of an extraordinary day, centered on an Argentine pope who, during his first visit to the United States, spoke frankly to the most powerful political leaders, and kissed and blessed small children whose broken bodies bound them to wheelchairs.

"My days with you have been brief," the pope said Sunday night, as he prepared to board a plane to Rome. "But they have been days of great grace for me and, I pray, for you, too."

On Sunday, the pope pledged support - and accountability - to victims of clergy sexual abuse, and shook hands with inmates at a Philadelphia prison. His Saturday appearance at Independence Hall was on his mind; an aide said Francis felt it was a highlight of his trip.

The pope made an unscheduled stop at the "Mary, Undoer of Knots Grotto" in front of the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul - where he was greeted by Sister Mary Scullion of Project HOME and by other volunteers. She stepped forward and hugged the pope, who, she said, asked for her prayers.

Scullion and others worked with artist Meg Saligman to create the grotto, inspired by Pope Francis' affection for the Baroque painting of the same name.

Across Philadelphia, people jogged and walked dogs on streets turned oddly empty by traffic restrictions. Vendors sold "I saw the Pope!" T-shirts by the handful, while restaurant seats were empty.

The Parkway crowd grew so dense that men and women were locked in place, unable to move in any direction. Others, deeply disappointed, never got near, stuck outside the Secret Service security checkpoints that offered limited entrances to an iron-ring security perimeter.

"What good were the passes?" asked Mary Davis, 84, of Somerton, whose pass dangled from her neck, but who was forced by crowds and closures to try checkpoints at 18th, 19th, then 20th Streets.

"This should have been better organized," she said. "I've waited hours and won't get to see him."

The avenue of museums and statuary offered a fitting stage for the grandeur of the papal visit. News photographers shot dramatic footage from overhead; smaller moments of mercy happened on the ground.

Just before the Mass began, the crowd at 21st and the Parkway strained forward to see the pope.

Kristin Heinly, near the front, turned to a woman behind her who was clutching a month-old baby. Heinly held out her arms and asked: Did the woman want to try to have the child embraced by the pope?

Lina Naula, 31, did not hesitate. She tenderly wiped the face of her baby, Matthew, and handed him to Heinly, a stranger.

The pontiff approached. Heinly, her hands slightly shaking, held Matthew high. Security officers noticed the boy, whose eyes were open as he looked around. They took him and approached Francis.

The pope bent to Matthew, kissed him and blessed him.

A moment later, the agent returned Matthew to Heinly, who then passed the baby on to his mother. By then both women were teary.

Lina and Angel Naula are immigrants - he from Ecuador and she from Colombia - now living in Bensalem.

People surrounded them, kissing the child and taking photos. Lina wrote down her email address and handed it out, hoping people who got good shots could send them to her.

"Blessed," said Angel Naula, 38.

Heinly, who lives in Fairmount, pronounced the moment "surreal." In fact, she said, it felt a little like a miracle.

On Saturday, the city had the aura of a big, happy festival, with short waits at security checkpoints and no crush of people on the streets or the Parkway.

Those numbers began to change dramatically early Sunday afternoon, as thousands of people tried to make their way toward the 4 p.m. open-air Mass.

Seas of people got stuck in line, waiting hours to pass through Secret Service checkpoints.

"That's not something we're in control of," Nutter said, "or can quite frankly do a whole lot about."

A group from St. Joseph's Church in Downingtown, all with tickets to the Mass, got in line on 20th Street at 12:20 p.m. By 3:30, they weren't inside the perimeter.

"Tons of people didn't get in. Tons and tons," said Colleen McKinney, who came from Charlotte, N.C., to join her brother, sister, father, niece, and nephew at the event.

"People were crying because they did not get in," said Janice Hogan of Chadds Ford. "People from Tennessee, Scranton, people in wheelchairs. . . ."

Two who did manage to get inside were Bruna Campos, 58, and her daughter Bruna Campos Costa, 29. They arose before dawn and took a train to Philadelphia.

Miles and miles

The mother, a bridal fashion designer, lives in Brazil, while her daughter, a college student, lives in Wilmington. After making it through the checkpoint, they slumped in exhaustion on the curb in front of the basilica.

"I would have been fine just watching on CNN," the younger woman said.

As the Mass neared, some religious leaders inside the security perimeter grew tense as they tried to reach their ticketed seats.

"I am a priest!" one shouted. Secret Service agents glanced at his collar and let him pass.

Others weren't sure if they'd ever see the pope, despite being within blocks of him all weekend.

For miles and miles on Sunday, as on Saturday, Anthony Greco pushed the wheelchair that carried his gray-haired mother, Angela, through the streets. Both hoped to glimpse the man they regard as a living saint.

Angela has emphysema and walking more than a few steps is impossible. Seeing Pope Francis, she said, might bring her something big: hope.

"He has touched my life," the Bergen County resident said. "I cry whenever I see him. I'm 74, and I have lived a beautiful life, but I look at my grandchildren and I don't see a beautiful future for them. I see a lot of angry people, and I want the pope to teach world leaders about love and respect."

'By his example'

In one long security line, a group of people from a Houston parish played guitar, sang psalms, and prepared for more time on their feet.

"Where is Joshua?" one priest called, scanning the crowd for a parishioner.

Several hands rose at once.

"No, the other Joshua!" he yelled, provoking laughter.

Before dawn, groups of pilgrims from New Jersey and elsewhere arrived at the Woodcrest PATCO station in Cherry Hill, one of four stations moving riders to Philadelphia.

Some stopped to take photos with a cardboard cutout of the pope that had been left behind on Saturday. People overcome with emotion wept, and hugged and kissed the replica.

"I try to live my life by his example," said Sharon Dacey, 59, of Haddonfield, a retired airline worker.

A smaller-than-expected crowd of about 350 walked to the Mass across the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, which was closed to vehicles for a second day.

Leonor Fonseca, a Cuban-born naturalized citizen, made the trek with her husband, Carlos, touched by Pope Francis' words about immigrants.

"I think American people will see [immigrants] are not that bad," Leonor Fonseca said.

In Philadelphia, near the Delaware River, part of the massive security apparatus that turned Center City into a maze of steel fences and concrete barriers began to come down. With incoming traffic still banned, public transit limited, and the bridge shut down, people walked freely down the centers of what are normally busy routes.

Some stood in the street, marveling at the emptiness and quiet.

The pope was busy elsewhere. On Sunday morning, at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, he met with five survivors of sexual abuse - including some harmed by priests.

"For those who were abused by a member of the clergy, I am deeply sorry for the times when you or your family spoke out to report the abuse, but you were not heard or believed," the pontiff said. "Please know that the Holy Father hears you and believes you."

Philadelphia was among the cities rocked by the sex-abuse scandal, and it continues to deal with the fallout.

Afterward, the pope met with bishops attending the World Meeting of Families, where he immediately addressed the issue.

"I have in my heart these stories of suffering of those youth," he said, "and it continues to be on my mind that people who had the responsibility to take care of these tender ones violated that trust and caused them great pain."

The pope then flew aboard President Obama's Marine helicopter to meet with inmates at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia. He encouraged them to get their lives on track and shook the hand of each man and woman.

He blessed an inmate in a wheelchair, and thanked the prisoners for the grand wooden chair they had made for him, a project to which they devoted weeks.

Sunday night, Monica Martinez was among a trio of travelers from Ohio who stayed behind to wait out the Parkway crowds and consider what they had witnessed.

Martinez, 33, who works for the Diocese of Toledo, said she sensed a "spirit of gratitude everywhere."

"People are caring about each other," she said. "We have a purpose."


Contributing to this article were staff writers Melanie Burney, Emily Babay, Michael Matza, Barbara Laker, Claudia Vargas, and Tricia L. Nadolny.