Pope to meet prisoners at end of immigration-focused US visit
PHILADELPHIA – Pope Francis was set to meet with his bishops and a group of inmates at a Pennsylvania prison on Sunday before saying Mass for an expected crowd of 1.5 million people on the final day of his historic visit to the United States.
The first Latin American pope has focused his first US trip on immigration, urging Americans to lay aside their “hostility” to newcomers and addressing adoring crowds of Latino Catholics in his native Spanish.
“You bring many gifts to your new nation. You should never be ashamed of your traditions,” the 78-year-old bishop of Rome told a crowd on Saturday in front of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, speaking from the podium that President Abraham Lincoln used to deliver the Gettysburg Address at the height of the US Civil War, which led to the end of slavery.
Francis, who has emphasised humility and service over pomp and circumstance since being elected pope two years ago, will begin his day meeting with US bishops at a local seminary before travelling to Philadelphia’s Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, where inmates made the hand-carved wooden chair he will use during the day’s closing Mass.
That open-air mass will take place under a tight security curtain. There is a heavy police presence around Philadelphia, with large stretches of downtown closed to vehicle traffic and pedestrians entering a 1.6 mile (2.6 km) corridor subject to search.
The leader of the world’s 1.2 billion-member Roman Catholic Church has met crowds at each step of his six-day US visit, which included the first-ever papal address to Congress and a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York before his arrival in Philadelphia on Saturday.
He heads back to Rome late Sunday, following the Mass.
Francis has won many fans in the United States, particularly among liberal-leaning Catholics, with his shift in emphasis towards the need to protect immigrants, the poor and the environment and away from the Church’s staunch opposition to abortion and gay marriage, without changing the doctrine on those issues.
Democratic politicians have embraced his message on many of the former points, which support their agenda, but some were careful to spell out their own support for gay rights. Gay marriage became legal in all 50 states this year following a Supreme Court decision.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, a Democrat, was among those making a clear statement on gay rights.
“In America, everyone has rights. Our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender neighbours continues to fight for their rights,” Nutter said. He referenced a response Francis made to a question about gays early in his papacy, in which he responded, “Who am I to judge?”
“Who are any of us to judge the lives of others?” Nutter said. “The scripture tells us ‘judge not, lest you be judged.'”
Immigrants have embraced Francis’ defence, which comes as some prominent Republican White House contenders are pledging to fence the US-Mexico border.
Gisele Harcum, 36, a Brazilian immigrant and US citizen, said she admired the pope for speaking freely about the issue.
“He’s not coming here looking for votes. He’s got a better sense of what we should be doing,” than politicians, Harcum said. Alluding to political gridlock in Washington, she said, “What we’re doing right now isn’t working.” (Reuters)