Pope Francis to nuns: ‘I love you very much’

Updated 1:25 AM EDT, Fri September 25, 2015

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Pope Francis leads service at N.Y. cathedral

He cites role of women in Catholic Church

(CNN) —  

Pope Francis gave Catholic nuns a big shoutout during his first-ever trip to New York.

“I would like to express my esteem and gratitude to the religious women of the United States,” the Pope said to applause that resonated through the city’s stately St. Patrick’s Cathedral. “What would the Church be without you?”

Speaking during evening prayers Thursday at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Francis continued:

“Women of strength, fighters, with that spirit of courage which puts you on the front lines in the proclamation of the Gospel. To you, religious women, sisters and mothers of this people, I wish to say ‘thank you,’ a big thank you… and to tell you that I love you very much.”

The Pope’s high praise came just months after the Vatican wrapped up a controversial investigation of an umbrella group of American nuns.