After six days, Pope Francis left inspiration in his wake, changing the lives of hundreds of thousands who saw him in Washington, New York and Philadelphia. From the Speaker of the House youngsters who got a papal blessing and smile, a lot of Americans will never be the same.
Millions watched the Holy Father on television and on the internet. His visit sparked gatherings and actions all over the nation, including in Oregon, where believers of many kinds prayed for unborn children, peace, ecological salvation and fairness for low-income workers. In the presence of this pope, the usual American divisions melted away for a week at least.
Here are meaningful moments from the remarkable visit.
On the plane from Cuba Sept. 22, Pope Francis defended his position on the economy, the environment and other social issues as faithful repetitions of basic Catholic teaching.
"I am certain I have never said anything more than what is in the social doctrine of the church," he responded.
"Maybe I have given an impression of being a little bit to the left," the pope admitted. "But if they want me to recite the Creed, I can!"
In the minutes before and after the papal plane landed at Joint Base Andrews, a group of excited Catholics sustained a chant: "We love Francis, yes we do; we love Francis, how 'bout you?" Other chants later erupted: "Ho, ho, hey, hey; welcome to the U.S.A.!" and "Fran-cis-co!"
Ready to greet the pontiff as he descended from the plane were President Barack Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their two daughter, Sasha and Malia.
The wind at times took Pope Francis' cape and lifted it over the back of his head. At the end of the carpet, the pope met a few Catholic schoolchildren, who offered him a bouquet.
In a debut speech to Americans Sept. 23 on the South Lawn of the White House with some 20,000 people in attendance, the pope introduced himself as a "son of an immigrant family." He said he had come to learn from others and to share from his own experience.
While honored by the welcome, Pope Francis was clear in issuing several challenges, including by publicly voicing his support for the U.S. bishops' defense of religious freedom.
"We can find no social or moral justification, no justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing," Pope Francis later told an audience of about 200 clients of Catholic Charities gathered at St. Patrick Church in Washington.
There were shouts, waves and a solid forest of arms holding cellphones high along two blocks of Constitution Avenue as thousands sought to get the pope to look their direction from the cruising popemobile.
Two burly men holding placards proclaiming that both the pope and President Obama are Antichrists got more than they bargained for. Several Latinas stood, turned toward the men, held their rosaries aloft, and began singing, "Ave, ave, ave Maria, ave, ave, ave Maria." The protesters were shortly on their way.
Canonizing the 18th-century Spanish missionary Blessed Junipero Serra, Pope Francis on Sept. 23 insisted a person's faith is alive only when shared.
Some people objected to the canonization because of questions about how Father Serra treated the native peoples of California.
Pope Francis mentioned the controversy only briefly, saying: "Junipero sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it. "
After Mass, Pope Francis greeted guests that included California Indians.
The past, the promise and the potential of the United States must not be smothered by bickering and even hatred at a time when the U.S. people and indeed the world need a helping hand, Pope Francis told Congress Sept. 24.
Pope Francis condemned legalized abortion, the death penalty and unscrupulous weapons sales. He pleaded for greater openness to accepting immigrants and called for care of the planet.
He referenced President Abraham Lincoln, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Catholics Father Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day as exemplary Americans.
Maryknoll Sister Noel Devine was determined to see Pope Francis.
She is confined to a wheelchair and can't speak because she has primary lateral sclerosis, a rare disease affecting the movement of her arms, legs and face. But her spirit and her determination are unfettered.
Sister Noel did not have a ticket to the Sept. 24 vesper service at St. Patrick's Cathedral. No problem. Her friends launched a Facebook campaign on her behalf. The page got more than 100,000 "likes" and she scored a pair of tickets.
During the evening prayer, Pope Francis thanked the nation's priests, brothers and women religious for their service and gave particular thanks to women religious saying, "Where would the church be without you?"
Dealing with war, development, the economy or environmental concerns, bureaucrats and diplomats always must remember that the lives of real children, women and men are at stake, Pope Francis told the United Nations the morning of Sept. 25.
"Above and beyond our plans and programs," he told the U.N. General Assembly, "we are dealing with real men and women who live, struggle and suffer and are often forced to live in great poverty, deprived of all rights."
Pope Francis called for real, concrete action to stem climate change; respect for every human life and for "the natural difference between man and woman"; economic decisions that place the needs of people before profits; and greater controls on weapons sales and the elimination of nuclear weapons.
Pope Francis insisted on the reality of "natural law," an ethical code of right and wrong that all people can recognize. As he has done before, he condemned "an ideological colonization," through which wealthier nations try to impose on poor countries not just a legitimate accounting of how aid is used, but also the imposition of "anomalous models and lifestyles which are alien to people's identity."
Honoring both the pain and the strength of the families of those who died at the World Trade Center on 9/11 and drawing on the pools of water that are part of the site's memorial, Pope Francis spoke about tears and quenching the world's longing for peace.
"The water we see flowing toward that empty pit remind us of all those lives" lost in 2001, he said. "The flowing water is also a symbol of our tears. Tears at so much devastation and ruin, past and present."
The pope and New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan each left a single white rose on the edge of the fountain in Memorial Plaza. Then the pope met briefly with 20 family members of fallen first responders, blessing them and listening to them carefully.
Pope Francis encouraged Catholic school students and immigrants in Harlem to live with joy and dare to dream.
"Wherever there are dreams, there is joy, Jesus is always present," he told students.
Pope Francis and the students prayed the Hail Mary; students then showed him science projects highlighting environmental themes. They even showed him a touch screen, with one girl advising the pope to double-click.
True peace in a big city comes from seeing the vast variety of people not as a bother, but as a brother or sister, Pope Francis said in his homily during the Mass Sept. 25 at Madison Square Garden where 20,000 people gathered to pray with him.
Maria Castro, of St. Kateri in Newark, New Jersey, teared up outside a concession stand while waiting for Pope Francis' arrival.
"We didn't sleep last night," said Castro, who immigrated to the U.S. from Puerto Rico as a teenager. "This is beautiful. I don't have words to explain how I feel. With this pope, we feel that we've got so much love, so much compassion. He makes a lot of people come to the church."
Before vesting for Mass, Pope Francis entered the arena in an electric cart, riding up and down the aisles, kissing babies and blessing several sick children.
In his homily, the pope urged the congregation to go out into the city, to seek the face of Jesus in the poor and suffering and to share the joy of the Gospel with all.
In his first Mass in Philadelphia, the pope recalled St. Katherine Drexel, a Philadelphia heiress who entered religious life, formed a religious community and used her family inheritance to educate blacks and native Americans throughout the U.S. after Pope Leo XIII had challenged her to serve the church by asking, "What about you?"
Pope Francis posed the same question repeatedly to the audience of 1,500 in the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peters and Paul Sept. 26.
In front of Philadelphia’s cathedral stood a visible representation of Pope Francis' favorite religious image: "Mary, Undoer of Knots."
The "Knotted Grotto" is a dome-shaped lattice-work frame that stands about 10 feet high and features tens of thousands of white ribbons knotted into a lattice structure.
Each ribbon represents a prayer intention left by a visitor.
Above the ribbons hung a large portrait of Mary, the Mother of God, as one who unties the knots of people's lives.
Not far from the Liberty Bell, Pope Francis urged the people of the United States to continue to "proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof," as the bell's inscription says.
Meeting Sept. 26 with members of the Hispanic community and immigrants at Independence National Historical Park, the pope said when governments respect human rights and freedoms, especially the right to religious liberty, they benefit from their citizens' respect and care for others.
Pope Francis spent about an hour at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. He entered the gymnasium from behind a blue curtain, walking up on to the small stage and carefully inspecting the large chair the inmates had made for him. He turned, with a big smile across his face, and gave the inmates a sincere papal thumbs up.
The pope told inmates he was visiting as a pastor, "but mostly as a brother."
Jesus, the pope said, "doesn't ask us where we have been, he doesn't question us what about we have done." Instead, Jesus washes peoples' feet and gives them life.
In unscripted remarks during the festival of the World Meeting of families, Pope Francis said the institution of marriage, despite its many challenges, should continue to be protected.
"Without the family, not even the church would exist. Nor could she be what she is called to be, namely 'a sign and instrument of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race,'" the pope said, quoting "Lumen Gentium," the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.
The pope then seemed to criticize the U.S. Supreme Court gay marriage law, saying “juridical” events have now joined social and cultural impacts on family bonds.
Pope Francis met with five survivors of sexual abuse Sept. 27 and later told bishops that he was overwhelmed by a sense of embarrassment and was committed to holding accountable those who harmed children.
"It is engraved in my heart, the stories, suffering and pain of the children abused by priests," the pope told bishops later. "I continue to feel an overwhelming sense of embarrassment because of those who had in their care the little ones and caused them great harm.
"I am deeply sorry. God cries," he said.
Pope Francis urged the hundreds of thousands of people gathered for the closing Mass of the World Meeting of Families to serve and care for each other as freely as God loves the human family.
"To raise doubts about the working of the Spirit, to give the impression that it cannot take place in those who are not 'part of our group,' who are not 'like us,' is a dangerous temptation," the pope said.
As the American Airlines plane taking him to Rome from Philadelphia took off, the pope said he pictured the faces of all the people he met, and he prayed for them.
The pope told reporters on board he "was surprised by the warmth of the people."
Asked if the success of his visit to the United States made him feel powerful or like a star, he said power is not his ambition: "It is something that passes. You have it today, but tomorrow it's gone."
Asked about the primary task facing the church in the United States, the pope said, "The challenge of the church is to be what it always was — close to the people, not detached."
For more photos go to the Catholic Sentinel Facebook page.