Pope Francis Hails Immigrants at White House
Pope Francis needed less than a minute into his first public remarks on U.S. soil Wednesday to invoke the contributions of immigrants to building America, setting the stage for more to come when he addresses Congress.
“Mr. President, I am deeply grateful for your welcome in the name of all Americans,” the pontiff said in English at the White House. “As the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families.”
That line from the Argentine-born son of Italian immigrants was met by applause and cheers by the thousands of guests at the White House, where President Barack Obama welcomed the pontiff. Francis’ words also served as a reminder that he has a deep commitment to immigrants and migrants, and sometimes indirectly admonishes the powerful for not doing more to help those in need.
Later in the morning, Francis also encouraged U.S. bishops to continue their outreach to new immigrants — especially those from Latin America — and thanked them for their care of these “pilgrims.”
“Even today, no American institution does more for immigrants than your Christian communities,” the pontiff said, according to translated remarks released by the Holy See. “Now you are facing this stream of Latin immigration which affects many of your dioceses … Perhaps it will not be easy for you to look into their soul; perhaps you will be challenged by their diversity. But know that they also possess resources meant to be shared.”
The pope is scheduled to meet later this week with teenagers in New York City, including some who entered the country illegally last year amid a surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America. While Americans in dozens of cities last summer formed human barricades to prevent buses of these children from arriving in their communities, Francis called the situation a “humanitarian emergency” and urged that they be welcomed and protected.
Francis has also asked nations with resources to open their doors to migrants who faced poverty in their home countries, as part of his encyclical letter released in June about addressing climate change. Some of his strongest remarks Wednesday were devoted to addressing problems stemming from climate change, saying they “can no longer be left to our future generations.”
Several lawmakers who have played a role in the immigration debate were at the White House, including Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa; Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Linda T. Sanchez, D-Calif., and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security appropriations committee.
“Was so glad to be at the White House today to hear Pope Francis’ call for compassion and justice,” Roybal-Allard posted on Twitter after the speech.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, known for his fiery anti-immigration comments, also was at the White House, although he did not comment on Francis’ remarks.
Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., tweeted that he was “inspired by Pope Francis’ message . . . on immigration, inclusiveness.”