The pontiff’s first visit to the United States as pope came amid widespread outrage at his handling of the deadly mass shooting at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
It was also a moment of hope for many African-Americans in America, whose numbers are shrinking by the day.
The pope also visited a mosque in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to pray with the Somali-American community, as well as with children at a local school.
It wasn’t all roses for President Donald Trump, who also addressed a gathering of African-American leaders.
He called the shooting a “tragedy,” and he said the pope had called for unity in the face of racial injustice.
The president said the violence and the lack of dialogue were “shameful.”
But he also spoke to black Americans and said they were “ready to be free.”
Trump said the nation must move beyond the divisions that have plagued the country since the end of the Civil War.
He urged African- Americans to rise up and “stand up to the bigotry of hatred.”
“The only way we are going to heal is if we all rise up together and stand up to hate and violence and racism,” Trump said.
“And I want to thank the pope, because I think he has done an amazing job.”
But Trump’s visit came just hours after another of his closest allies, former President Bill Clinton, called for the pope to apologize for his handling.
He also spoke of a “dark day” in the history of the Catholic Church, which he said was “tarnished and polluted by centuries of prejudice.”
“For decades now, the Church has been a powerful voice for social justice and equality and a beacon of hope in a country filled with darkness,” he said.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, a leading black activist, urged Trump to speak out more forcefully against the violence in the church.
He noted that “this was not a church, it was a cemetery, and so we must not be silent.”
Sharpton said that the pope’s remarks on Wednesday “are an assault on our values and our humanity and our dignity.”
Trump has called for an end to violence against African-America, but he has not directly addressed the violence that took place in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.
The church was firebombed and set ablaze in June.
“When the pope speaks out, I think people will listen,” Sharpton told MSNBC.
“He’s doing an incredible job.”
A representative for the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.