‘PROCLAIM LIBERTY’ • In front of a crowd of approximately 40,000 in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pope Francis delivers an address on immigration and religious liberty Sept. 26. John Blaine photo
‘PROCLAIM LIBERTY’ • In front of a crowd of approximately 40,000 in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pope Francis delivers an address on immigration and religious liberty Sept. 26. John Blaine photo

By Rosemary Daniels | Correspondent

In front of historic Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed 239 years prior, Pope Francis spoke on the inalienable rights to life and liberty and issued a summons to protect the dignity of all.

Throughout his remarks, the Pope acknowledged Philadelphia as the place where “the freedoms which define this country were first proclaimed.” He pointed out that the rights for which the early Americans fought so hard, have to consistently be “re-affirmed, re-appropriated, and defended.”

A self-described “son of immigrants,” the Pope spoke directly to immigrants watching at Independence Mall and around the country. “You should never be ashamed of your traditions,” he said. “Do not forget the lessons you learned from your elders, which are something you can bring to enrich the life of this American land.”

There were 25,000 tickets were distributed for the event, with total attendance in and around the square estimated at around 40,000. Included in that number was Judy Alvarez, a parishioner in St. Leo the Great Parish in Lincroft, who journeyed to the city with three friends. Throughout her day, she encountered people from all walks of life. “All of us had come to see Pope Francis —even it was just a glimpse — and to hear his message. It was more than just camaraderie. It was a feeling of joy and unity.”

 Arriving at Independence Hall on Saturday afternoon, the Pope made a loop around the perimeter of the mall in the popemobile, waving to the faithful who had come from countless states and countries.

Shortly after, Pope Francis arrived on stage to the sounds of Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”, performed by Philly POPS Festival Brass.

Because the address was aimed at the Hispanic community of the Philadelphia region, Pope Francis spoke in his native Spanish, with translations provided on-screen for the attendees at the site.

Deacon Jose Jiminez, of Corpus Christi Parish, Willingboro, gave his two Mall tickets to his wife and daughter and watched the speech from a giant video screen near the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. “I’m in heaven. The Pope spoke to us in Spanish, and I felt great, because I felt I was truly getting the message.

“When I moved here from Puerto Rico, my primary language was Spanish and it created a lot of barriers. I understand the immigrant’s struggle. But the Pope’s message was for immigrants not to lose their identity, and to share their gifts with society. He told the crowd, ‘We will find our place, and make society better’. He urged all of us to care for others, and ‘to bring our best’.”

John Maguire, director of religious education in St. Paul Parish in Princeton, said that “though the entire speech was in Spanish, and I speak only English…his passion showed so clearly. I was particularly moved by his leading of the Lord’s Prayer.”

The Holy Father made an explicit connection between a robust protection of religious liberty and a society in which all are welcomed in the richness of their unique identifies. “When individuals and communities are guaranteed the effective exercise of their rights, they are not only free to realize their potential, they also, through their talents and their hard work, contribute to the welfare and enrichment of society as a whole,” he said as part of the 1,600-word address.

“We were so blessed and thrilled to be able to be a part of this historic event,” Andy Loh, a parishioner in St. Gregory the Great, Hamilton Square, said. “My wife Jeanine and I have seen both John Paul II and Benedict XVI in person so it was an amazing privilege to also see Pope Francis! What made this time even more special, and really was our main reason for going, was to bring our oldest daughter, Teresa, to also share in our joy with us. This provided us a very real way to pass on the faith to the next generation.”

Gerald Charmant, who heads the Haitian ministry in Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton, agreed. “The message of the Holy Father tells us immigrants to be not discouraged at the various difficulties we face. We must integrate and fully participate without neglecting our own traditions,” he said.

The Holy Father also thanked people of all religions who have cared for those in need and defended life in all its stages. “All too often, the most in need of our help are unable to be heard. You are their voice, and many of you have faithfully made their cry heard.”

As he did throughout his visit to the U.S., the pope ended his remarks with a request to pray for him.

Judging by the crowd’s response, the Holy Father will not be in need of prayers any time soon.

Associate Editor Patrick Brown contributed to this story.