PHILADELPHIA - Standing at the birthplace of the United States, Pope Francis on Saturday urged the country’s immigrants – especially the largely Catholic Hispanic population – to overcome the hardships of integration while clinging to their faith.
It was the moment they had been waiting for. Francis blessed the youngest of them, and even accepted a gift.
Then, standing at Abraham Lincoln’s old lectern, the pope gave what was essentially a pro-immigration pep talk in Spanish.
"Do not be discouraged by whatever challenges and hardships you face," he told the crowd through a translator.
He told them never to be ashamed of their traditions – noting the many Hispanics in the crowd.
"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," Francis said.
This is the key speech of Francis' two days in Philadelphia, and his message was clearly met with welcoming ears at this historic setting.
Grace Riera, a Hispanic-American, said, "All he says is almost what I also think, so it is very close to my heart."
Carmela Alza, also a Hispanic-American, said, "I came so close to him, I can’t believe it. I didn’t take any picture, but I showed him this photo of my family.
And no one seemed to mind an anti-immigrant protester who bashed Francis for not speaking in English and criticizing capitalism.
Tess Foley, an anti-immigration protester, said, "He’s one of the world leaders pushing the United States of America towards socialism."
Hispanic-Americans make up a third of the U.S. Catholic Church at a time when it is losing adherents who are the offspring of earlier waves of immigration.