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Washington Crowds Thrilled As Pope Francis Celebrates Mass, Calls For Climate Action

WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Pope Francis is called the pope of the people, and on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., he showed firsthand how he has earned the reputation – greeting crowds with smiles and waves throughout the day.

Late Wednesday afternoon, the pope held his first mass in the United States, where he canonized a missionary from California.

As CBS2's Tony Aiello reported, late Wednesday night, crews were dismantling the stage and taking away the altar following the pope's mass, but it was a religious experience that touched something deep inside many in the crowd.

At the end of the mass, Vice President Joe Biden led the applause. And as Cardinal Donald Wuerl embraced the pontiff, there was a look of delight on Pope Francis' face.

It was a feeling certainly shared by the faithful.

"It was amazing -- so emotional. I just - his presence, you know, so holy," said Sally Liska of Hyattsville, Maryland.

A crowd of 25,000 people washed in brilliant sunshine were united in faith and in love for the charismatic and humble Holy Father.

The time leading up to the mass was very trying, with too few security lines and no dedicated line for wheelchair users. As a result, wait times were up to three hours.

But once inside, the mood improved. Souvenir shops were packed, and almost everyone went home with something featuring Francis' smiling face.

Worshipers came from every corner of the continent, with a large contingent from California. They were especially excited for the canonization of Junipero Serra, an 18th century Franciscan who evangelized native peoples.

But Serra is not a universally revered figure. He also set in motion forces that destroyed Native American culture, many critics say.

"The mission system he brought with him created total destruction of who we were as a people and our culture," said Corinna Gould.

But University of California professor Steven Hackel said: "Serra doesn't see that. He sees Indians as naked, as hungry, as hungering literally for food and for salvation in Christ."

It was the first ever canonization on U.S. soil.

The basilica is adjacent to the campus of Catholic University of America, and thousands of CUA students attended – including Emma Flynn of Yonkers.

"Definitely something that brings a lot of blessings and grace, and it will bring peace to our campus," she said.

Pope Francis At The White House
President Barack Obama greets Pope Francis during an arrival ceremony at the White House on September 23, 2015 in Washington,DC. (Photo credit MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Earlier, cheering crowds, with some people holding out babies for blessings, jammed a parade route along Constitution Avenue as Francis later made a leisurely loop around the streets near the White House in his open-sided white Jeep for his first direct encounter with the American public.

As CBS2's Maurice DuBois reported, Sofi Cruz, 5, suddenly jumped the barricade as if on cue -- and caught the pontiff's eye during the parade. Before officers escorted her away, Pope Francis called her over, embraced her, accepted her gifts, and created a lasting memory.

The gifts included a letter asking Pope Francis to prevent her family from being deported to Mexico.

Pope Francis made an emotional connection with people who came from far and wide to see him.

"It was excellent; great; something to see – a once-in-a-lifetime type of thing to see," said Andre Dewindt of Hollis, Queens. "And when he gets to New York, I'm going to see him again."

Another woman from Brazil said she didn't see anything with her own eyes, but her camera caught video of the popemobile.

It was just a glimpse a brief moment in time the Holy Father's vehicle rounding the bend. It was a good hundred yards away down the street, but the ripple in the crowd, the excitement and the roar could still be felt.

True to form, when the Pontiff began the day at the White House, he arrived for all the pageantry and majesty of the moment in his little black Fiat.

The pope jumped into current issues at the White House, calling for action to combat climate change. He said it is a problem that "can no longer be left to a future generation.''

President Barack Obama welcomed Francis to the White House before an adoring crowd of thousands.

Speaking in a soft voice and halting English, Francis delivered a strong message against those who doubt the science of climate change, saying that the warming planet "demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition'' of conditions awaiting today's children.

"To use a telling phrase of the Reverend Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honor it," he said.

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Vanessa, of Queens, watched the pope on TV with a youth group at the Shrine Church of St. Gerard Majella. She told WCBS 880's Ginny Kosola she was pleased to hear Francis talk about climate change.

"So many controversies and he's standing up for what he believes in and he's always telling people like this is right whether you think so or you don't think so," she said.

Father Joseph Jude Gannon said he was not surprised.

"It's right out of Genesis, it's right out of the social teaching of the church as well to be united to God's creation and a special way to take care of it, to be respectful of it," he said.

Washington Crowds Cheer Pope Francis; He Calls For Climate Action

It was also a message sure to delight the Obama White House and liberals in general. But the pope's message had something for conservatives, too, with a pointed call to protect religious liberties, "one of America's most precious possessions.''

"All are called to be vigilant," he said, "to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.''

That message was sure to be welcomed by many U.S. bishops and conservatives who have objected to the Obama administration's health care mandate and the recent Supreme Court legalization of same-sex marriage.

Just before the pope arrived, Obama had tweeted to the Holy Father: "Welcome to the White House, @Pontifex! Your messages of love, hope, and peace have inspired us all.''

Obama, joking that his backyard is not typically so crowded, told the pope that the excitement surrounding his visit was a reflection of Francis' unique qualities, mentioning "your humility, your embrace of simplicity, the gentleness of your words and the generosity of your spirit.''

"You remind us that the Lord's most powerful message is mercy," President Obama told the pope. "That means welcoming the stranger with empathy and a truly open heart – from the refugee who flees war-torn lands to the emperor who leaves home in search of a better life."

Obama also highlighted the pope's call for protecting the planet and supporting communities vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

"You remind us that we have a sacred obligation to protect our planet -- God's magnificent gift to us," Obama said.

Obama also thanked the pope for his support for efforts to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

After opening remarks on the lawn, the two headed inside to the Oval Office for a one-on-one meeting where each hoped to find common cause with the other on issues they hold dear.

Later in the day at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, Pope Francis told U.S. bishops that style matters in reaching the faithful. He advised not using sharp and divisive language, and said it is critical to clean up the sex abuse crisis.

"I have joined my efforts to yours in the efforts of succoring those victims, and when we bring succor, the victims are healed and we have to hope that such crimes will never repeat themselves," the pope said through a translator.

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Washington was the first stop on the pope's six-day, three-city visit to the United States.

On Thursday, he will address Congress before leaving for New York.

His visit to the Big Apple includes a prayer service at St. Patrick's Cathedral, an address to the United Nations General Assembly, an interfaith service at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, a visit to a school in East Harlem, a motorcade through Central Park and Mass at Madison Square Garden.

He leaves New York Saturday morning when he will travel to Philadelphia.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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