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September 26, 2015

Pope to immigrants: 'Never be ashamed of your traditions'

Pope Francis spoke from a lectern used by Abraham Lincoln

PHILADELPHIA - Pope Francis, speaking in America's birthplace on Saturday, offered stout words of support to Hispanic and other immigrants in the United States, telling them not to be discouraged at a time when some prominent politicians are directing hostility toward them.

The 78-year-old Argentine pontiff toured Independence Hall in Philadelphia before addressing a crowd estimated at more than 40,000 outside the 18th century red brick building where basic American liberties were proclaimed and where independence from Britain was declared.

"Do not be discouraged by whatever challenges and hardships you face," the pope told the many Hispanics and other recent immigrants to the United States in the crowd, adding that he felt "particular affection" toward them.

“The pope is telling this country that it was built by them and that they will always be important. Immigrants have to embrace who we are, but we also must be American. It is a blend of America and home.” – .Edith Murray, Norristown

During his first visit to the United States, the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics on Thursday had urged Americans in a historic speech to Congress to reject "a mindset of hostility" toward immigrants. He expanded on that issue in his Philadelphia speech, delivered in Spanish.

Francis said immigrants "bring many gifts" to their new nation.

"You should never be ashamed of your traditions," Francis said to a round of applause. "I repeat, do not be ashamed of what is part of you."

Francis noted that U.S. history includes ending slavery in the 1860s and "the gradual effort to eliminate every kind of racism and prejudice directed at successive waves of new Americans."

"Remembrance saves a people's soul from whatever or whoever would attempt to dominate it or use it for their interests," he said.

Martha Quintero, 48, (left in picure) arrived in the state 16 years ago from Colombia and settled in Norristown.

She said the Catholic church there “became my place.”

Quintero said it is immigrants who “move the economy” and she said new arrivals are also growing the Catholic Church.

Her friend, Edith Murray, 44, (right in picture) left Mexico and also settled in Norristown. She met Quintero through the school system where their children go, but bonded further through the church they attend.

“The pope is telling this country that it was built by them and that they will always be important. Immigrants have to embrace who we are, but we also must be American. It is a blend of America and home,” said Murray.

Caterina Vilches, 32, of West Chester, wore a T-shirt celebrating her heritage as a Chilean immigrant. Arriving as a 17-year old with only basic English and living in upstate New York was a “shocker” and a lonely time in her life.

But she pushed herself to master English and learn the culture.

“A lot of people don’t understand we are here to help the country and our families, not to cause damage,” she said.

Watching the pontiff's address on a Parkway Jumbotron, Chris Annd, a native of India who now lives in Washington, said he was encouraged by the speech. 

"He's saying everybody - equality should be given to all humans," he said.

Harsh rhetoric toward illegal immigrants has featured heavily in the race for the Republican nomination for the November 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Republican front-runner Donald Trump has called for deporting all 11 million illegal immigrants, most of whom are from Latin America like the pope, and has accused Mexico of sending rapists and other criminals across the border. He and many other Republicans also are calling for the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter told the crowd before the pope's speech, "We are all immigrants. Whether we arrived 10 generations ago or 10 minutes ago, we cannot let the xenophobia and racism of some to carry the day."

The pope spoke from the lectern used by President Abraham Lincoln for his famed 1863 Gettysburg Address after the bloodiest battle of the U.S. Civil War that declared that "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth."

In unscripted remarks on a separate subject, the pope also said globalization is good if it does not destroy the riches and distinctiveness of peoples. He said real globalization must respect different cultures equally.


The pope also promoted religious freedom.

"In a world where various forms of modern tyranny seek to suppress religious freedom, or try to reduce it to a subculture without right to a voice in the public square, or to use religion as a pretext for hatred and brutality, it is imperative that the followers of the various religions join their voices in calling for peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and rights of others," the pope said.

Outside Independence Hall, the Philadelphia Orchestra welcomed the pope with the thunderous timpani and soaring brass of Aaron Copeland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" on the penultimate day of his six-day U.S. trip.

The pope traveled to Philadelphia from New York, where he flew over the Statue of Liberty and the former immigration station of Ellis Island aboard a helicopter in an unscheduled detour that gave him nostalgia for his home town Buenos Aires.

"You could see he was very, very moved," New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan told reporters. "And he said 'You know, Buenos Aires was a city of immigrants too,'" Dolan said.

Francis, the first Latin American pope, has taken up the plight of immigrants a main issue of his papacy, along with climate change, economic equality and religious freedom.

And while his message resonates most strongly with faithful Catholics, his words aimed at caring for the poor, caring for the least able, and caring for the world carries beyond the confines of his church.

That’s why Bassima and Gary Romana flew in from St. Petersburg, Florida on Thursday to stay with local relatives and why they plan to stay until Monday.

Independence Hall pope

Bassima and Gary Roman traveled to Philadelphia from Florida to see the pope, despite the fact that she is not Catholic. "He is the greatest man, the greatest leader of the Christian church," she said. (Kevin C. Shelly / PhillyVoice)

Bassima, is a native of Egypt who was raised as a Coptic, one of the original and most ancient forms of Christianity. As a young girl, French Catholic nuns schooled her.

But she does not follow any particular religion now.

And yet she and her husband felt compelled to show up about six hours in advance and find a good spot on the lawn of the mall, the better to see and hear the pontiff.

“He is the greatest man, the greatest leader of the Christian Church and I feel privileged to see him," she said. "His message follows the teachings of Jesus."

“He is going to revitalize the church," she added. "I have no expectations. I am just so happy to hear and see him. He has already said so many things that give us hope.”

Ligiane Anza, 32, a former Fishtown resident, returned from Hoboken to act as a captain overseeing volunteers directing pilgrims around the city.

Independence Hall pope

Ligiane Anza, a former Fishtown resident, returned home to Philadelphia from Hoboken to act as a volunteer captain for the pope's visit. She is seen here, in the blue jacket, giving directions at 4th and Arch streets. (Kevin C. Shelly / PhillyVoice)

Raised as a Ukrainian Orthodox church member, she is now Catholic and felt it was important to be involved.

She said the most common question she’s been asked is, “How do I get home?”

While she praised the volunteers who pulled together the pope’s visit and the preceding World Meeting of Families, she conceded that most of her old neighbors from the city had left town rather than put up with the hassles of travel restrictions.

Bob Spross, a tour guide at Christ Church, which is at 5th and Arch streets in Old City, had hoped to see a bigger turnout as a result of the speech.

But the reality on Saturday was that the historic church, where most of the Founding Fathers worshipped at one time or another actually had fewer visitors than usual.

Standing next to Ben Franklin’s grave, he said turnout was "disappointing. We lost all the casual tourists."

One of the pilgrims making his way into the secure zone yesterday was Democratic mayoral nominee Jim Kenney.

He was trying to find his route from Arch Street, where there were barriers, to a spot on Locust.

Jim Kenney

Among those looking for guidance on how to enter the secure zone where Pope Francis will speak, was mayoral candidate Jim Kenney. He said Jesuits – the pope is the first Jesuit to hold that office – shaped him. (Kevin C. Shelly / PhillyVoice)

Kenney showed off his St. Joseph’s University affiliation with a logo polo shirt.

He said the Jesuits – St. Joe's is a Jesuit institution and the pope is the first Jesuit pope ever – “have made me who I am, for better or worse.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

Three women — all Spanish-speakers, but all from different countries — who emigrated to the United States years ago, were touched by Pope Francis’ words.