During his trip to America, Pope Francis on Saturday spoke to a large crowd of immigrants telling them to keep their spirits high in the face of resistance. The speech comes after a full day of events for the pontiff who arrived in the city of brotherly love and kicked off the day with Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul amid increased security. Philadelphia is the third and final city on his U.S. trip, which marks the first voyage to America that Pope Francis has taken. He called on the large Hispanic population in the U.S., as well as recent immigrants, to be “responsible citizens” who contribute to the communities in which they live.
Minutes before Francis spoke, he paused multiple times to bless several babies along Market Street. The crowd, which had gathered hours before the speech, was enthusiastic all day. Francis also blessed a “cruz de los encuentros,” a 5-foot-tall cross symbolizing the journey of faith of Latino Catholics. He spoke from the same lectern that was used by Abraham Lincoln to deliver the Gettysburg Address. Earlier Saturday, Francis arrived at Philadelphia International Airport to musical selections ranging from Ode to Joy to the theme from the movie Rocky. Then, after some warm smiles, kisses and handshakes, his modest Fiat was off into a city anxiously anticipating his arrival. The Holy Father also took time to turn his focus toward religious freedom.
I take this opportunity to thank all those, of whatever religion, who have sought to serve the God of peace by building cities of brotherly love, by caring for our neighbors in need, by defending the dignity of God’s gift of life in all its stages, by defending the cause of the poor and the immigrant,” he said. ” All too often, those most in need of our help are unable to be heard. You are their voice, and many of you have faithfully made their cry heard.”
Pope Francis greeted Latino immigrants and gave them strong words of encouragement.
Do not be discouraged by whatever challenges and hardships you face,” said Francis, who delivered his speech in Spanish and said immigrants would renew American society from within. “I ask you not to forget that, like those who came here before you, you bring many gifts to your new nation. Please, you should never be ashamed of your traditions,” he said. “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.”
The pope urged more involvement in the church from women and ordinary Catholics. The future of the church, he said, “means valuing the immense contribution in which women, lay and religious, have made and continue to make to the life of our communities.” The 78-year-old Francis, who suffers from sciatica and a bad knee, has been walking with difficulty on his grueling trip that began with a four-day visit to Cuba. He has appeared to struggle on stairs, especially those on his chartered flights between cities. Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said the pope’s physical troubles are not due to the grind of the most lengthy trip of his papacy.
With his trip ending Sunday, there was still no word on whether Pope Francis will meet with victims of sexual abuse by priests. The issue has been searing in Philadelphia, where two grand jury investigations revealed continuing abuse and cover-ups by church officials. When popes have met with abuse victims in the past, they were never announced in advance, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, head of the Holy See press office, told reporters here Saturday. “They have to be not a media event, not a media sensation,” Lombardi said. “You will be sure I will give good information if it happens.”