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What Did Francis Think of America?

Pope Francis IPope Francis offered candid reflections about his five-day visit to the United States, saying that he was impressed by the warmth of the American people, and was especially touched by their piety.

TIME Magazine is reporting on an in-flight press conference which took place on Sunday evening as the pope headed back to Rome after a nine-day journey that took him to Cuba and the U.S.

Addressing journalists for nearly 60 minutes in both Italian and Spanish, he said every U.S. city he visited was a little different, but the warmth of the country was consistent wherever he went.

More specifically, he described Washington as being very welcoming but “more formal.” New York, on the other hand, was “stralimitate”, meaning overwhelming, exuberant, over-the-top. He found Philadelphians to be “very demonstrative”.

Overall, he was impressed by the piety of American Catholics.

“The church’s challenge is staying close to the people … not being a detached church,” he said. “This is something that the church in America has understood and understood well.”

In the closing press conference before leaving Philadelphia, Vatican press spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, SJ echoed the same sentiments when he said the American church heard the message the pope came to deliver.

“The points of the message of the Pope were many, obviously – because he has spoken for the entire world, for the American Congress, and also for families and for the Church,” Father Lombardi said.

“We have not to forget that for the Pope, the first intention of this trip was the World Day of Families – and in this sense I think that he has succeeded in keeping this message, this attention for families[front and center] during the entire journey. From Cuba, on, every time he has addressed anyone – important authorities, too: President Obama, the Congress, the United Nations – he has always recalled the importance of the family, through to these [final days in Philadelphia], in which he has [proclaimed] the beauty of the Gospel of the Family as a ‘factory of hope’ – I think he was very successful in finding this strong expression.”

The pope’s reception by the American people was wonderful, he said. “I think maybe more than expected – or perhaps [not more than expected], because he knows how the people love him, and we have had also in these big American cities, the people on the street with spontaneous enthusiasm. In this sense, it was a very positive experience for him and for us, who travel with him, to see how the people – the “normal” people, who are in different countries love him and understand his message – even if he was not so perfect in English – his communication was good. People have understood.”

Perhaps one of the most poignant reflections of the pope made in the aftermath of this long-anticipated journey was on board the plane when he shared a very personal moment with reporters.

“This is a bit a personal but I have to be sincere,” he shared. “When the plane leaves after a visit, I see the faces of so many people. I get the urge to pray for them and say to the Lord, ‘I came here to do something, to do good, perhaps I have done wrong, forgive me but protect all those people who saw me, who thought of what I said, who heard me, even those who have criticized me, all of them.’ That is what I feel.”

We will miss you, Papa. Come back soon!

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