Pope Francis departed the capital Thursday afternoon for the next leg of his trip in the U.S. after electrifying crowds and Congress over three days in Washington, D.C.
Francis is traveling to New York City, where he'll participate in the Evening Prayer at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Friday will be a busy day for the pope, who's scheduled to deliver an address to the United Nations, visit the Sept. 11 Memorial and celebrate Mass at Madison Square Garden in the evening.
This weekend, he will appear before more than 1 million people at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.
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He boarded the plane just after 4 p.m., shaking hands with Secretary of State John Kerry at his send-off at Joint Base Andrews and ascending the stairs to his American Airlines plane, recently christened "Shepherd 1." It took off at 4:25 p.m. ET.
All road closures in traffic-clogged D.C. will be lifted at 5 p.m., the city's department of transportation said.
Taxi driver Alex Alem, a Coptic Christian, gave his opinion of Francis' trip at about the same time the pope departed in his Fiat for the airfield at Joint Base Andrews.
"It was a nice visit for people of the Catholic faith. The man seems like he's a humble and very interesting character," Alem said.
At Joint Base Andrews, about 1,500 people gathered to send off the Holy Father. The group included Catholic school children, military families, Kerry, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, and Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington.
Earlier, Francis greeted the well-wishers gathered in front of the Apostolic Nunciature, his termporary residence, when he left at 3:15 Thursday. Smiling broadly, he shook hands with the crowd that had been chanting and cheering while waiting to catch their last glimpse of the pontiff in D.C.
On Wednesday, Francis canonized St. Junipero Serra, an 18th-century missionary who is now the only person to be made a saint on American soil. Francis' Thursday morning address to Congress was the first by any pontiff – and something Speaker of the House John Boehner has been trying to accomplish for his entire congressional career.
Washingtonians said all week that Francis' visit was a chance to witness a down-to-Earth pope always willing to reach out to the public, which he did at stops all across the city – in speeches to the people and when shaking hands with those who lined the streets to see him.
"He has struck a chord today," said Maryland resident Ernest Moussi, who heard Francis' address to Congress. "He brought a message of humility and hope, a message that says that after all the fighting there is a time for unity and coming together."