In one of the final stops of his North American tour, Pope Francis spoke directly to the millions of Latinos and recent immigrants who now call the United States home, urging them to not shed their culture as they assimilate into American life.
“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,” Francis said in Spanish Saturday. “I repeat, do not be ashamed of what is part of you, your life blood.”
Thousands of people gathered to hear Francis speak at the steps of Independence Hall in Philadelphia as he paid homage to the founding principles that are the bedrock of American values.
Earlier in the day he celebrated Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, where he urged Catholics to embrace their faith in the face of a rapidly changing society. “Each one of us has to respond as best we can,” he said.
It’s a message that resonates particularly for church leaders in the U.S. who are seeing their congregations become increasingly more diverse. Hispanics now represent the fastest growing segment of Catholics — they account for 34% of all adults aligned with the church in the United States. Despite the growth, fewer Hispanics overall are Catholic. With a greater variety of religious institutions available in an increasingly secular world, Hispanics today no longer see Catholicism as their one and only option.
As such, it appears deliberate that a number of events in the pontiff’s five-day tour of the U.S. targeted immigrants and Hispanics directly. As the first Latin American pope, part of Francis’ outreach has been accomplished by simply overcoming language barriers — he has delivered the majority of his speeches in Spanish. He met with migrant workers and a youth soccer league in New York's Spanish Harlem neighborhood on Friday. Later Saturday, he is scheduled to speak before a festival of families in Philadelphia.
The pope’s visit comes at a particularly striking moment in modern U.S. politics as the rhetoric on immigration has become increasingly pointed. By contrast, Francis has made calls for compassion and equality central to his message in the United States. In a break from his previous speeches earlier in the week that took a distinctly secular tone, Francis on Saturday reflected heavily on the challenges in the nation’s history to maintain 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,” he said.