Jennifer Hudson, Gloria Estefan, Harry Connick Jr. and other entertainers performed for a jubilant crowd Friday at a concert to welcome Pope Francis on his first visit to the U.S. and celebrate his message of faith and goodwill.
The event, called "A Journey in Faith," stretched for two hours at Madison Square Garden with performers standing on a white elevated stage that would soon transform into the altar from which the pope would celebrate Mass.
Hudson, the Academy Award and Grammy Award-winning singer, sang "Hallelujah" backed by an orchestra, and drew roars from the crowd. Estefan sang "Mas Alla," Connick sang "How Great Thou Art" and several Broadway actors performed in the 20,000-seat arena. The audience included dignitaries, members of religious orders and everyday Catholics who won tickets through their local parishes.
Actor Martin Sheen hosted the ceremony, produced by the Archdiocese of New York and featuring an opening performance by a Catholic choir from the Church of St. Charles Borromeo in Harlem. Clad in white robes, they stood on the stage decorated with white flowers and set under a giant crucifix suspended from the arena ceiling.
Stephen Colbert made a video appearance, welcoming to the arena "Catholics and the non-Catholics who arrived really early for a Knicks game." He apologized for not being at the Mass in person, but said he had promised CBS that he would "do (his) new talk show every night."
Additionally, a bishop took the stage and gave a brief history of the papacy including a roll call of pope names, noting there had been "23 Johns, 12 Piuses, six Pauls, 14 Clements, but one Peter and one Francis," which drew loud cheers.
The arena was only somewhat full at the start of the show because of slow-moving security lines.
The pope's appearance at Madison Square Garden followed visits Friday to Central Park, an East Harlem school, the National September 11th Memorial and Museum and the United Nations.