Pope Francis says family is ‘factory of hope’

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PHILADELPHIA – Pope Francis said families are a “factory of hope” after he heard stories from families from around the world at a Philadelphia festival.

Francis gave an off-the-cuff monologue in Spanish after hearing from six families from the U.S., Australia, Ukraine, Jordan, Nigeria, and his homeland of Argentina at the World Meeting of Families on Saturday.

He called for families to be cared for and protected — particularly children and the elderly.

The families told Francis about their joys and struggles, in between musical performances from acts including The Fray and Aretha Franklin.

Francis will celebrate an outdoor Mass on Sunday, speak to a group of clergy and visit a prison before ending a six-day visit to the U.S.

Seated on stage, Pope Francis heard from families from around the world and listening to musical performances at a festival hosted by the worldwide Catholic gathering that brought him to Philadelphia.

An engaged Australian couple, Camillus O’Kane and Kelly Walsh, told the pope they are concerned about divorce and the push to change the definition of legal marriage.

The festival included musical performances from Andrea Bocelli, Aretha Franklin and others. Actor Mark Wahlberg is the Master of Ceremonies.

Crowds along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway swelled in advance of his appearance Saturday night.

Pilgrims waited up to 45 minutes to clear security checkpoints late Saturday afternoon, but described the process as orderly. Crowds up to five deep lined the papal parade route.

Jay Berryman was in a group of 160 from North Little Rock, Arkansas. He noticed a change in mood as the pope’s visit neared.

“Everyone’s getting nervous,” he said.

Church officials say they don’t have an estimate of how many people turned out to see Pope Francis during the closing festival of the World Meeting of Families.

The Secret Service had estimated the secured festival space on Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway could fit about a quarter-million people. There were gaps along sidewalks at the height of attendance Saturday night. Some people remained on side streets and outside the security area.

Train ridership into Philadelphia was much lower than expected. The main commuter rail agency said only a little more than half of the 53,000 who bought passes used them.

Church officials had estimated up to 750,000 could attend the festival. They have always predicted the biggest crowd, of a million or more, would attend the pope’s outdoor celebration of Mass on Sunday.