KNOCK, Ireland — Pope Francis issued a sweeping apology Sunday for the “crimes” of the Catholic Church in Ireland, saying church officials regularly didn’t respond with compassion to the many abuses children and women suffered over the years and vowing to work for justice.

Francis was interrupted by applause as he read the apology out loud at the start of Mass in Dublin’s Phoenix Park.

Hundreds of miles away, somber protesters marched through the Irish town of Tuam and recited the names of 796 babies and young children who died at a Catholic-run orphanage there, most during the 1950s.

“Elizabeth Murphy, 4 months. Annie Tyne, 3 months. John Joseph Murphy, 10 months,” the protesters said in memory of the children who were buried in an unmarked mass grave discovered last year.

With his weekend visit to Ireland, Francis became the first pope to visit the predominantly Catholic country in 39 years. He told the hundreds of thousands of people who turned out for Mass that he met Saturday with victims of all sorts of abuses: sexual, labor and religious ones.

They included people who were wrenched from their unwed biological mothers as children and forcibly put up for adoption. Responding to a plea from the adoptees, the pope assured the aging mothers it wasn’t a sin to look for the children taken from them so long ago. For decades, church officials told the women just the opposite.

“May the Lord keep this state of shame and compunction and give us strength so this never happens again, and that there is justice,” Francis said.

Ireland has thousands of now-adult adoptees who were taken at birth from their mothers, who had been forced to live and work in laundries and other programs for “fallen women.”

One forced adoptee who met with the pope, Clodagh Malone, said Francis was “shocked” at what the group told him and “he listened to each and every one of us with respect and compassion.”

The survivors said the Argentine pope understood well their plight, given Argentina’s own history of forced adoptions of children born to purported leftists during its 1970s military dictatorship.

Sheila Wilkinson holds a photograph of her mother, Maggie O’Connor, during a protest at the site of the former Tuam home for unmarried mothers in County Galway on Sunday.

“That is a big step forward for a lot of elderly women, particularly in the countryside in Ireland, who have lived 30, 40, 50, 60 years in fear,” said another adoptee, Paul Redmond. “That would mean a lot to them.”

Francis’ first day in Ireland was dominated by the abuse scandal and Ireland’s fraught history of atrocities committed in the name of purifying the Catholic faith. He received a lukewarm reception on the streets, but tens of thousands of people thronged Dublin’s Croke Park Stadium on Saturday night for a family rally featuring Ireland’s famous Riverdance performers and tenor Andrea Boccelli.

In Tuam, meanwhile, survivors of the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home lit candles and placed hundreds of pairs of tiny shoes around a tiny white coffin at the site near a sewage area on the home’s former grounds where the babies and children were buried.

Irish government-appointed investigators reported last year that DNA analysis of selected remains confirmed the ages of the dead ranged from 35 weeks to 3 years old and were buried chiefly in the 1950s. The Tuam home, which was run by an order of Catholic sisters, closed in 1961.

March organizer Annette McKay, who said her mother gave birth in 1942 to a daughter who died of measles and whooping cough at the age of 6 months, said the reading of the 796 names was meant to be “a silent rebuke.”

“We wanted the babies’ names to speak. And we wanted the babies to know ‘Here we say your name.'”