A playful Pope Francis laughed, played and took lots and lots of selfies with hundreds of inner-city schoolchildren during a visit to East Harlem Friday.
Spending the afternoon inside Our Lady Queen of Angels School, the 78-year-old pontiff appeared as jubilant and engaged as during any time in his historic mission to the United States.
Brandon Cabaleiro, 17, a senior at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, was able to address the pope in Spanish.
"He is so calm," Cabaleiro said. "I wasn't even nervous."
About two dozen pupils from Our Lady Queen of Angels won a lottery to meet, speak and pray with the pope. The children showed off projects they prepared for him showcasing stewardship, community service and the environment.
Francis tinkered with a touch-screen application created by the children on a large monitor -- moving items around a digitally rendered river.
When they serenaded him, Francis teased them for not singing with enough energy -- cupping his hand to his ear and suggesting they were sleepy.
He beamed when gifted with a soccer ball from one student, and told him about his favorite team, Buenos Aires' San Lorenzo club.
"Thank you for letting me come, and I ask pardon from your teachers for stealing a few minutes of their class time," the pope said in Spanish to an audience of students, faculty and immigrants organized by Catholic Charities.
Hundreds more students from inner-city Catholic elementary and high schools greeted the pope outside Our Lady Queen of Angels. The students were selected by their school administrators because of their active religious lives and community work.
"The children were so happy," said Sister Guadalupe of the Community of Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal, who attended the event and realized her "heartfelt wish" to touch the Holy Father's hand.
"It was so soft," she said. "I couldn't help myself from reaching out to him. We love him so much."
Addressing the students, Francis noted that "very near here" was a street named after "a man who did a lot for other people" -- Martin Luther King Jr.
"One day he said, 'I have a dream.' His dream was that many children like you could get an education," Francis said. "It is beautiful to have dreams and to be able to fight for them . . . Don't stop dreaming."
Before departing, Francis said he had one "homework" assignment for the students. "Please don't forget to pray for me, so that I can share with many people the joy of Jesus."
Outside the school, crowds of mostly black and Hispanic worshippers packed the streets hours before the pope's arrival -- many of them waving U.S., Vatican City and Puerto Rican flags. Others watched from apartment windows.
When a bright rainbow broke through the cloudy haze above, worshippers saw it as a sign that they were where they needed to be.
"We will be seeing el papa," said Juliana DeJesus of the Dominican Republic, who planned the trip to see the pontiff for a year, saving "the little money we have" for visas. She and her small entourage were staying with family and friends in New York and planned to follow the pope to Philadelphia, where they have no lodging.
"It does not matter," she said, pointing to the rainbow. "We are here right now."