Speaking on the steps of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall as his historic visit to the United States came to a close, Pope Francis urged America’s immigrants and Latinos this past Sunday to “not be discouraged” by challenges and to “never be ashamed” of their traditions:
“Among us today are members of America’s large Hispanic population, as well as representatives of recent immigrants to the United States.”
“Many of you have emigrated (I greet you warmly!) to this country at great personal cost, in the hope of building a new life.”
“Do not be discouraged by whatever hardships you face. I ask you not to forget that, like those who came here before you, you bring many gifts to this nation.”
“Please, you should never be ashamed of your traditions. Do not forget the lessons you learned from your elders, which are something you can bring to enrich the life of this American land.”
“I repeat, do not be ashamed of what is part of you, your life blood.”
The mostly immigrant and Latino crowd serenaded Pope Francis — the son of an immigrant family in Argentina and the first Pontiff in history to be born in the Americas — with chants of “Francisco! Francisco!”
The Pope’s plea to immigrants and Latinos comes as some Republican Presidential candidates have in fact pressed for the exact opposite.
Earlier this month, Donald Trump slammed Jeb Bush for speaking Spanish while on the campaign trail. While Bush indicated he wouldn’t stop doing so, he eventually coddled the GOP’s nativist base anyway by saying that “we should not have a multicultural society.” Bobby Jindal has also notably echoed Trump’s nativism by repeatedly disowning his own Indian-American heritage, saying he’s “sick of hyphenated Americans.”
Meanwhile, Pope Francis celebrated America’s immigrants and Latinos from the onset of his U.S. tour, calling himself “the son of immigrants” in the very first sentence of his opening remarks at the White House (and, not to mention, conducting most of his speeches in his native Spanish):
“As the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families. I look forward to these days of encounter and dialogue, in which I hope to listen to, and share, many of the hopes and dreams of the American people.”
Pope Francis kept his word about continuing the dialogue, using his historic address before a joint session of Congress last Thursday to call on lawmakers to treat the nation’s immigrants with dignity, compassion, and respect:
“In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants.”
The day before, the Pope’s embrace of five-year-old Sofi Cruz made national headlines after the young girl broke through a security barricade in an attempt to give the Pontiff a letter asking him to fight for undocumented immigrants, including her own parents.
— America’s Voice (@americasvoice) September 23, 2015
In New York, the Pope celebrated Mass using a chair handcrafted by three immigrant day laborers, and later blessed a group of undocumented immigrants and child refugees in Harlem.
— America’s Voice (@americasvoice) September 26, 2015
Also in Harlem, the Pope toured a school and noted that many of the young Latino students came from immigrant homes:
“I know that it is not easy to have to move and find a new home, new neighbors and new friends,” the pontiff said. “The good thing is that we also make new friends. We meet people who open doors for us, who are kind to us. They offer us friendship and understanding, and they try to help us not to feel like strangers. To feel at home.”
In Philadelphia, standing behind the lectern used by President Abraham Lincoln to deliver the Gettysburg Address, Pope Francis concluded his remarks by affirming that Latinos and immigrants do indeed have a place in America, even as Congressional lawmakers refuse to act and pass a humane solution to our nation’s broken immigration system:
“You are also called to be responsible citizens, and to contribute fruitfully – as those who came before you did with such fortitude – to the life of the communities in which you live.”
“I think in particular of the vibrant faith which so many of you possess, the deep sense of family life and all those other values which you have inherited. By contributing your gifts, you will not only find your place here, you will help to renew society from within.”
“Do not forget what took place here over two centuries ago. Do not forget that Declaration which proclaimed that all men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights and that governments exist in order to protect and defend those rights.”