Pope Francis talks immigration, religious liberty before cheering crowd at Independence Mall

Pope Francis appeared before a roaring, and cheering crowd in his first public event in Philadelphia, where he connected the nation’s religious tolerance to globalization and the immigrant experience.

Speaking in Spanish to a crowd that included Hispanic immigrants invited to hear him, Francis urged newcomers to remember the gifts they bring from their homelands.

“You should never be ashamed of your traditions,” he said, in a line that brought roaring applause.

The pope’s speech came amid a roaring debate over immigration in the Republican presidential primary, and a refugee crisis in Europe stemming from the Syrian civil war.

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His address was billed as an event about immigration, but he went beyond those boundaries, saying that the foundations of religious liberty laid the groundwork for the nation’s diversity and urging a common bond among the faithful of all religions to work toward peace.

“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 of others,” Francis said, according to a translation of his speech provided by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops before the event.

Archbishop Charles Chaput, who introduced Francis, remarked that when the Church advocated for the rights of the unborn, it was seen as too harsh. And when the Church advocated for the rights of immigrants it was considered soft. The Catholic Church, Chaput said, was neither.

“When it comes to immigration, the church reminds us that we are all children of the same God,” Chaput said. “The person who speaks that truth the most is Pope Francis.”

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Pilgrims lined the streets around Independence Mall for hours ahead of the pontiff’s visit, hoping to catch a glimpse of him as he paraded down Market Street in his pope mobile.

He kissed babies brought to him from the crowd. Inside the security barriers, young men ran through the grass, following the pope mobile as it rounded 5th Street.

“He was talking about our global community,” said Evelyn Olivera, of Pennsauken, New Jersey. “It’s important to keep our traditions and values and culture.”

Luis Rivera, who has lived in the U.S. for 18 years, said the pope’s speech emphasized unity within the church.

“Bueno mensaje,” Rivera said. “Everyone understood. Everyone should be together.”