Pope Francis delivers his speech as he leads an evening...

Pope Francis delivers his speech as he leads an evening prayer service at St. Patrick's Cathedral, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, in Manhattan. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

As church bells clanged, Pope Francis smiled and waved to thousands of rapturous fans Thursday in lower Manhattan as his motorcade slowly made its way up Fifth Avenue.

Minutes later, the pope stepped through the massive bronze doors of St. Patrick's Cathedral to a roar from the congregation of about 2,500.

Just hours earlier, Frances had been the first pope to address a joint session of Congress -- giving a wide-ranging address that included a strong call to action on behalf of immigrants and refugees.

The Argentine pope, making his first visit to New York, entered midtown in his modest black Fiat, but moved to his open-air popemobile for the last few blocks to the cathedral.

Throngs of supporters -- some of whom came from across the United States and from other countries -- lined the streets, cheering and waving miniature Vatican flags.

Francis ended the day with a homily in Spanish during an evening service at the newly renovated St. Patrick's. He began by acknowledging the 700 Muslims killed in a stampede during the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

"In this moment I give assurances of my prayer," he said. "I unite myself with you all."

The pope went on to reflect on what he referred to as the spirit of gratitude and the spirit of hard work.

"A grateful heart is spontaneously impelled to serve the Lord and to find expression in a life of commitment to our work," Francis said. "Once we come to realize how much God has given us, a life of self-sacrifice, of working for him and for others, becomes a privileged way of responding to his great love."

In the morning at the U.S. Capitol, lawmakers from both parties listened -- and rose to their feet dozens of times to applaud -- as the 78-year-old pontiff admonished them to use their political strength for "restoring hope, righting wrongs."

He touched on themes he has emphasized throughout his papacy: human rights, equality and service to the poor, and drew on American figures from Abraham Lincoln to Catholic charity worker Dorothy Day to underscore his points.

The first Latin American pope began his 50-minute speech -- delivered slowly in English -- relating Congress' role to that of Moses, the biblical leader of the Israelites, before urging a rejection of fundamentalism in all its forms.

"We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within," Francis said. "To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject."

The pope segued into an appeal for the United States to face with compassion the world's "refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War."

"We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners," he said. "I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants."

He spoke of people traveling north in an apparent reference to immigrants from Latin America seeking opportunity here.

"We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation," Francis said.

Francis also urged the defense of "human life at every stage of its development" -- words often used in relation to opposition to abortion -- and repeated his call for "the global abolition of the death penalty."

And he referenced "Laudato Si," his encyclical on the environment issued this year, in which he urged global action to halt climate change.

"I call for a courageous and responsible effort 'to redirect our steps,' and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity," he said. "I have no doubt that the United States -- and this Congress -- have an important role to play."

The messages resonated with the thousands of people who listened on the Capitol's West Lawn.

Among them was María Hernández, who trekked from Los Angeles to the site of an immigrant detention center in York, Pennsylvania, where she joined a group of 100 women marching to Washington to call attention to the plight of immigrants who are in the country illegally.

"We want dignity, respect and opportunity for immigrants, and he has spoken about that," Hernández said in Spanish. "He is the maximum authority of the church, and yet he's put himself in our place as immigrants."

After his address to political leaders, Francis visited St. Patrick's Catholic Church -- Washington's oldest parish -- where he spoke at a prayer service before dining on a lunch of chicken and pasta with charity workers and people who are homeless.

"We can find no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing," Francis said. "There are many unjust situations, but we know that God is suffering with us, experiencing them at our side. He does not abandon us."

Francis arrived in New York to a welcoming party of 200, including Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan and children from area Catholic schools.

A band from Xaverian High School, a Catholic school in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, played "New York, New York" as the pope emerged from a special American Airlines flight onto a red carpet placed on the tarmac.

Francis spent several minutes greeting and blessing the children, accepting a gift of a "spiritual bouquet" made up of children's written prayers, before departing for Manhattan in a helicopter.

On Fifth Avenue, he stepped into his popemobile -- a white Jeep -- for a short journey to St. Patrick's to the evening service of vespers.

George Ezike, 55, of New Rochelle, called the experience "truly exciting."

"It was inspiring. You could feel his vibe," he said. "But it happened too quickly."

At the cathedral -- the seat of the Archdiocese of New York -- Francis was greeted by New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Inside, he took his time greeting those who spent most of the day waiting for him. As he made his way down the center aisle, Francis bent to embrace a girl in a wheelchair wearing a pink shirt, spoke in her ear and patted her on the cheek.

During his homily, Francis again mentioned the clergy sex-abuse scandal, saying he stood with those who had "come forth from the great tribulation."

Francis spoke of gratitude and hard work as ways to fulfill a spiritual life, and cautioned against reveling in luxuries and comforts that could blunt God's call. And he thanked the women of the Catholic Church, which was met with sustained applause.

"What would the church be without you?" Francis said. "Women of strength, fighters, with that spirit of courage which puts you in the front lines in the proclamation of the Gospel."

Bishop William Murphy of the Diocese of Rockville Centre took to the altar shortly before the service.

Murphy, who worked for years in Rome at the Vatican, took the packed cathedral through a brief history of the Roman Catholic Church. He noted that the church has had 23 popes named John, 16 named Benedict, 13 named Innocent, but only one named Francis.

"Viva el Papa Francisco!" he said in Spanish, prompting applause, then added in English: "Long live Pope Francis!"

"We in New York love you and welcome you today and always. Amen."

Francis continues his three-city, six-day U.S. visit Friday with a morning address to the United Nations General Assembly. He is scheduled to leave for Philadelphia tomorrow morning.

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