* Francis addresses U.N. General Assembly
* He says "grief is palpable" at Sept. 11 memorial site
* Tens of thousands cheer Francis in Central Park
* Pope celebrates Mass at Madison Square Garden
(Adds Madison Square Garden Mass, paragraphs 3, 20-21)
By Philip Pullella and Daniel Bases
NEW YORK, Sept 25 Pope Francis on Friday
condemned the craving for material gains and power, warning an
annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations that
greed is destroying the Earth's resources and aggravating
The 78-year-old Argentine pontiff also prayed at the
memorial to those killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in
perhaps the most solemn moment of his first visit to the United
He later was greeted by adoring crowds estimated at about
80,000 people as he drove in his "popemobile" through sprawling
Central Park before heading to the famed Madison Square Garden
sports arena for an evening Mass before about 20,000 people.
Addressing dozens of world leaders at the U.N. General
Assembly, the spiritual head of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics
railed against the "grave offense" of economic and social
"A selfish and boundless thirst for power and material
prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural
resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged,"
The first pope from Latin America, Francis has often
criticized unbridled capitalism in the two years of his papacy.
On Friday, he had a high-powered audience at the United
Nations, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary. This year's
General Assembly is believed to have attracted the highest
number of leaders in U.N. history.
The pontiff urged government leaders to ensure their people
enjoy the minimum material needs. "In practical terms, this
absolute minimum has three names: lodging, labor and land,"
Francis said to applause.
He said humanity's future is in danger.
"The ecological crisis and the large-scale destruction of
biodiversity can threaten the very existence of the human
species," said Francis, who this year published the first papal
encyclical, a letter to the church, dedicated to the
Francis underscored an "urgent need to work for a world free
of nuclear weapons" and praised the July agreement reached by
the United States and other world powers to curb Iran's nuclear
program as "proof of the potential of political good will and of
law, exercised with sincerity, patience and constancy."
The pope also said international financial agencies should
work toward "the sustainable development of countries and should
ensure that they are not subjected to oppressive lending
systems" that cause greater poverty, exclusion and dependence.
'GRIEF IS PALPABLE'
Francis led an inter-religious prayer service at the site of
the Sept. 11 hijacked plane attacks by al Qaeda Islamist
militants that brought down the Twin Towers of the World Trade
Center in Lower Manhattan.
"Here grief is palpable," Francis said, after viewing the
reflecting pools that mark the footprints of the Twin Towers.
Flanked by a dozen religious leaders from the Jewish,
Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Greek Orthodox traditions,
Francis spoke to a crowd of about 700 people in an underground
"In opposing every attempt to create a rigid uniformity, we
can and must build unity on the basis of our diversity of
languages, cultures and religions," Francis said.
A day after becoming the first pope to address the U.S.
Congress, Francis warned in his U.N. speech against imposing
Western liberal values on the rest of the world via "an
ideological colonization by the imposition of anomalous models
Francis called on government leaders to fight human
trafficking, ban nuclear arms and promote the education of
girls. Among those in the audience were Cuban President Raul
Castro and Malala Yousafzai, the 18-year-old Pakistani
campaigner for girls' rights to schooling.
Echoing concerns he expressed at the White House and
Congress this week about the environment, Francis called for
"fundamental and effective agreements" at climate change talks
in Paris in December.
During the Mass at Madison Square Garden, Francis focused
his homily on life in big cities populated by many forgotten or
"They are the foreigners, the children who go without
schooling, those deprived of medical insurance, the homeless,
the forgotten elderly. These people stand at the edges of our
great avenues, in our streets, in deafening anonymity," he said
The pope, who arrived in New York on Thursday night, earlier
was serenaded by schoolchildren during a visit to a Catholic
elementary school serving mostly Latino and black children in
the city's East Harlem neighborhood, speaking with individual
students at Our Lady Queen of Angels School.
Two years into his papacy, Francis has won the admiration of
many in the United States, with liberals captivated by his focus
on meeting the needs of the poor, immigrants and the homeless.
On his U.S. trip, he has also emphasized conservative values and
Catholic teachings on the family.
Francis wraps up his six-day U.S. trip in Philadelphia on
Saturday and Sunday with a Catholic summit of families, a visit
to a jail and a large outdoor Mass.
(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Barbara Goldberg,
Michelle Nichols, Louis Charbonneau and Scott Malone; Writing by
Alistair Bell and Will Dunham; Editing by Mary Milliken, Grant
McCool and Lisa Shumaker)