WASHINGTON -- When Pope Francis walked onto the balcony of the U.S. Capitol and said "Buenos días" Thursday morning, the thousands crowded on the West Lawn cheered in adulation, clapping and shouting "¡Que viva el papa!" -- "Long live the pope!"

Then the throng went completely quiet and listened as the pope asked God to give the crowd a blessing. A smiling Francis, his eyes alight, ended with "God bless America."

Long Islanders Yanira Chacón, Milena Morales and Matilde Parada were moved to tears.

On the lawn since before sunrise, they had watched on one of three Jumbotrons as the pope addressed the U.S. Congress and members of the Supreme Court, speaking of compassion and the need for a more merciful world for children, immigrants, the poor and refugees from strife.

"We are leaving here feeling spiritually richer," said Chacón, 54, of Uniondale. "His message was as we expected -- beautiful, real, compassionate."

Parada, who like her friends is involved in immigrant advocacy through her church, said she was especially impressed by the pope's call "on good politicians to give people opportunity."

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"We just want honest, decent people to not have to live in the shadows, and have opportunity and pay taxes and become part of this society," said Parada, 54, of Mineola.

Morales, 44, of Hicksville, was moved by Francis' attention to children and youth, to whom he dedicated his first words upon emerging onto the balcony.

For Patrick Young, 57, a lifelong Catholic from Westbury, the pope struck the right balance with a serious speech that rose above the political fray, but urged people to act.

"It wasn't a political message, but a message based on ethics and values" that, he said, reminded people of the humanity of "people who are marginalized."

Sister Mary Ellen Lacy of St. Louis, Missouri, and Sister Jan Cebula of Kansas City, Missouri, journeyed to see Francis on a ride across seven states as part of the "Nuns On The Bus" movement.

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"I hope he stirs their hearts in Congress, so that they can look deeply into what's happening and set aside their deep divide and partisanship, so they can establish support systems for people falling through the cracks," said Lacy, who recently lived in Brooklyn and is part of the Daughters of Charity order.

On Long Island, high school and college students watched the event. At St. Anthony's High School, Brother Gary Cregan pointed to the directness of the pope's message. About 300 students watched the speech in the South Huntington school's auditorium.

"He is not afraid to speak his mind," said Cregan, the school's principal. "He made some members of the Congress, Supreme Court and Senate uncomfortable at some points. But then again, so did Christ."

Rick Fatscher, 17, a senior from West Islip, noted that his mother -- like the pope -- is from Argentina. "I think the pope wanted to remind Americans that we need to uphold a tradition of charity," he said.

At Hofstra University, the Cultural Center Theater was the spot for viewing and discussing the address.

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Student Sean Grealy, 21, an exercise science major from Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey, said the pope touches such a wide swath of people because he speaks to their hearts "rather than trying to convince them of doctrine."

Julia Barry, 17, a freshman from East Meadow, was impressed by the pope's mention of the Golden Rule from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

It's simple, universally known and easy to understand, she said.

"Instead of coming up with something really complex, he brought that up," said Barry, a Catholic and a computer science and mathematics major. "That really stood out to me that he would talk about such a basic rule."

The Rev. Gregory T. Rannazzisi, the Catholic chaplain at Hofstra, said Francis is calling on all people to be their best selves.

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While the speech touched on such lightning-rod issues as abortion, immigration and environmental degradation, the pope cannot be defined politically, the chaplain said.

"You can't box him in," Rannazzisi said.

With Jo Napolitano

and Stacey Altherr