Karla Perez loves Pope Francis. Like her, he’s a native Spanish speaker. He is also the first Latin American to lead the Catholic Church, and he talks easily about soccer and prefers public buses to luxury cars.
Most of all, though, Perez loves this pope because he has made better treatment of immigrants a centerpiece of his two-year-old papacy.
She hopes, as do many of the nearly 30 million Hispanic Catholics in the country, that this month’s visit by Francis will change the tone of the nation’s divisive immigration debate.
“I’m an immigrant myself, and I hear politicians saying they want to build higher walls. I can’t remember a time when it’s been this ugly,” said Perez, 31, an elementary school teacher who emigrated from El Salvador when she was a child and now attends Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Alexandria, Va.
Perez said that at a time when politicians are talking about mass deportations, “anchor babies” and revoking birthright citizenship, she is eager to hear the pope’s “gentle, kind voice that makes you feel like you are going to be okay.”
On Sept. 23, the morning after the pope lands in Washington on a flight from Cuba, thousands of Latinos — 50,000 or more, by some estimates — will walk, take the bus or ride the Metro to the White House following special sunrise Masses held across the region in Spanish. The pope is expected to greet the crowds outside after meeting with President Obama.
Francis will hold high-profile meetings with Latinos and immigrants in each of the three U.S. cities he is visiting — Washington, New York and Philadelphia — and Catholic leaders hope he urges elected officials to fix the system that has left 11 million undocumented people living in the United States in the shadows.
The pope has described immigrants as victims of an unequal world, calling the need to help them a “humanitarian emergency.”
“I am sure that all Hispanics,” especially the undocumented, hope Francis will talk about the “immigration drama” flaring in the United States, said Mario Dorsonville, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington.
“We expect him to talk about the invisible, those in limbo,” the millions with no legal status, Dorsonville said. “There’s no bigger poverty than being invisible.”
Daniel Flores, a Catholic bishop in the border city of Brownsville, Tex., said one of the hardships for undocumented immigrants is that they cannot return to Mexico or Central America to see their parents and children because they would not be able to return to the U.S. jobs they need to earn a living.
Flores said he believed the pope would “not be pointedly political” or offer specific policy suggestions, but he would use, instead, his influence as the leader of a church with 1.2 billion members to “remind politicians, when they are crafting laws, to keep in mind human dignity and the importance of family life.”
SOURCE: Mary Jordan
The Washington Post