Pope Francis has arrived at the United Nations for a speech that will bring his message to an international audience.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his wife, Yoo Soon-taek, met the pontiff as he arrived at the world body’s headquarters in New York.
The Vatican flag is also flying for the first time at the UN. It was raised without fanfare or ceremony just before Francis arrives to address the General Assembly.
UN security officers raised the Holy See flag with its yellow and white bands and a triple crown topped by a cross on a new flagpole set slightly apart from those of the 193 UN member states.
The General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a Palestinian sponsored resolution on September 10 allowing UN observer states to fly alongside those of member states.
The Holy See and Palestine are the only two UN observer states.
Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Holy See’s United Nations ambassador, told a news conference earlier this week that the Vatican changed its decision not to have the flag fly for the Pope’s first visit to the United Nations at the recommendation of the UN Secretariat.
But he said the Vatican did not want any ceremony, just to have the flag raised after all the member states, as the resolution says.
Yesterday, Francis plunged into the melting pot of New York after reminding the country of its immigrant origins in the first papal speech before the US Congress.
At an evening prayer service in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Francis thanked American nuns for their strength and courage in a deeply meaningful acknowledgement of their service following a years-long Vatican crackdown.
The popular pontiff received raucous cheers upon his arrival in Manhattan. Thousands of people lined the streets leading to St Patrick’s to greet him, cheering, waving flags and adoringly chanting his name as he gestured towards them from his popemobile.
On the steps of the recently spruced-up cathedral, dignitaries including state governor Andrew Cuomo, mayor Bill de Blasio and US senator Charles Schumer welcomed him for an evening vespers service.
Once inside, the pews full of US priests and sisters erupted in applause when Francis told American nuns that he wanted to thank them for their strength, spirit and courage and to “tell you that I love you very much”.
It was the strongest expression yet of his gratitude for American nuns after the Vatican under his predecessor ordered an overhaul of the largest umbrella group of US sisters, accusing them of straying from church teaching.
The nuns denied the charge and received an outpouring of support from American Catholics, and the crackdown ended this year, two years early, with no major changes.
Earlier, in Washington, the Pope waded into bitter disputes while speaking to Congress, entreating the nation to share its immense wealth with those less fortunate.
He urged Congress and the nation to abolish the death penalty, fight global warming and embrace immigrants. Politicians gave rousing ovations to the leader of the world’s Catholics despite obvious disagreements over some of his pleas.
He underscored his message by travelling to a central Washington church, where he mingled with needy and homeless people, blessed their lunchtime meal and walked among them while they ate.