PHILADELPHIA –Speaking from the steps outside Independence Hall, Pope Francis asked the world’s religions Saturday to embrace peace and tolerance and told America’s immigrants to stay strong and “never be ashamed” of their traditions.
Francis said he greeted Latino immigrants Saturday with “particular affection” and gave them particularly strong words of encouragement. “Thank you for opening the doors,” the pope said.
“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.”
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Francis spoke from the lectern Abraham Lincoln used to deliver the Gettysburg Address, beginning his speech reflecting on religious tolerance and the right to 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 in a speech that paid tribute to America’s Declaration of Independence and the Quakers who founded Philadelphia.
“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, also calling for a globalization that preserves the uniqueness of individuals and different cultures.
Thousands of people thronged the streets of Philadelphia on Saturday, standing behind metal barricades guarded by scores of police as they awaited Francis’ midday speech and appearance on the Independence Mall.
In the morning he celebrated Mass at Philadelphia’s cathedral, calling on women and young people to do more to strengthen the Roman Catholic Church in America, while keeping the institution’s existing authority in place.
In his homily, the pope singled out the story of Katharine Drexel, a Philadelphia-born heiress who became a nun and then, after her death, a saint. Pope Francis told of how Drexel had asked Pope Leo XIII for help with American missions and the pope replied, “What are you going to do?”
At Philadelphia’s Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, Pope Francis repeated that question in Spanish – “y tu?” (and what about you?) – again and again as he reflected on the church’s role in a changing society and urged the faithful to support women and youth.
“We know the future of a church in a rapidly changing society will call and even now calls for a much more active engagement on the part of the laity,” Francis said.
The pope added: “This does not mean relinquishing the spiritual authority with which we have been entrusted. Rather, it means discerning and employing wisely the manifold gifts which the spirit pours out upon the church. In a particular way, it means valuing the immense contribution which women, lay and religious, have made and continue to make to the life of our communities.”
At the conclusion of Mass, Archbishop Charles Chaput welcomed Pope Francis to Philadelphia.
“This is a city that would change its name to ‘Francisville' today if we could do that without inconveniencing the rest of North America,” Chaput said to laughs and then a long round of applause. So we welcome you with all our hearts, and a huge amount of enthusiasm and joy.”
Francis’ two-day Philadelphia visit is the third and final leg of his historic trip to the United States, which began Tuesday evening in Washington, D.C., and included the first address of a pope to a joint meeting of Congress. He then traveled to New York and spoke at the United Nations, visited the Sept. 11 memorial museum and waved to massive crowds during a short popemobile ride through Central Park. On Friday night, he celebrated Mass at Madison Square Garden.