PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - 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.
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.
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.
The biggest crowds of the pope’s U.S. visit are expected in Philadelphia, where some 1.5 million people are set to attend a Mass led by the pontiff on Sunday before he flies back to Rome that night.
In a homily at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, Francis said the Church should give a greater role to lay members, especially women.
Although he does not support ordaining female priests, Francis urged the Church to value “the immense contribution which women, lay and religious, have made and continue to make, to the life of our communities.”
Additional reporting by Ian Simpson, Laila Kearney and Sebastien Malo; Writing by Will Dunham and Alistair Bell; Editing by Mary Milliken and Meredith Mazzilli