By Elise Harris
In a virtual audience with Americans Pope Francis heard emotive testimonies from undocumented immigrants, comforted a single mother, and encouraged greater solidarity in world racked with many problems.
The videoconference was held Aug. 31, and was hosted by ABC News. It aired on ABC News’ “20/20” at 10:00 p.m. ET Sept. 4, and is available online in English and Spanish.
Members included students from the “Cristo Rey” Jesuit High School – a place for disadvantaged youth; a center for homeless in Los Angeles; and members of Sacred Heart parish in McAllen, Texas, which sits near the U.S.-Mexico border.
During the conference, Pope Francis listened to the stories of people from a variety of different backgrounds, including a bullied teen, a homeless youth and undocumented immigrants from Mexico and El Salvador.
He also gave a special message to a single mother, telling her that she is “a brave woman” for bringing her two daughters into the world when she could have easily aborted them.
“You could have killed them in the womb, and you respected life, respected the life that you had inside of yours.”
The Pope extended his greeting to all Americans, saying that he is praying for them and looking forward to his visit the United States later this month.
Pope Francis: A big greeting. A big greeting to the Catholic community in the United States and to all citizens of the United States. This is my message, an affectionate greeting.
Connection to Chicago, with the Jesuit High School “Cristo Rey,” a school for the poor and marginalized.
Testimony of Valery Herrera, a senior at the Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. She has struggled with vitiligo, an autoimmune disease that causes white blotches on the face and body, and had endured bullying through elementary and middle school. Music helped her grow in her faith and feel less alone and different. She is thinking of becoming the first in her family to go to University, and wants to study pharmacy.
Valery Herrera: What are your hopes for us, the youth? What do you hope we do and be?
Pope Francis: Valery. I would like to hear you singing, may I ask you to sing a song for me? I wait for that. Go on, go on…Be courageous (Valery sings “Junto a Ti Maria”). Thank you very much. It’s very kind of you.
My first response to your question is this: What I hope for from youth is for you all not to walk alone in life. This is the first step, I hope for many more things. That you dare to walk with love and tenderness for others. That you meet someone – you sang to the Virgin to take you into her arms, to take you by the hand to walk – that will accompany you to walk in life. Life is very difficult. It’s difficult to walk alone. You get lost. You get confused. You can find the wrong path or you can be walking around in circles, in a maze, or worst, you can stop because you get tired of walking in life. Always walk hand-in-hand with someone who loves you, someone who gives you tenderness – and you said this to Our Lady. To walk hand in hand with Jesus, to walk hand in hand with the Virgin, this gives security. It’s the first thing I hope for the youth: that you be accompanied but with good companions, that is, that you walk in good company. In my country (Argentina), there’s a saying, ‘it’s better to be alone than to be in bad company.’ That’s true, but walk accompanied. Each youth has to look in life for someone that helps them along the way, it can be their father, mother, a relative, a friend, a grandfather or grandmother – grandparents give such good advice – a teacher, someone that helps you to face things in life. Walk accompanied, first.
Second: I hope the youth walk with courage. It just cost you to take the first step in this path that I asked you, that you sing a song. You were emotional, you didn’t know how to do it, but you went courageously and made the first step, and sang very well. Continue singing, you sing very well. That is, the courage to take the first step, the courage to go forward. Do you know how sad it is to see a youth that is not brave? A sad youth, a youth with the face of grief, a youth without joy. Courage gives you joy, and joy gives you hope which is a gift from God, obviously. It’s true that in the path of life there are many difficulties. Don’t be afraid of difficulties! Be prudent, be careful but don’t be afraid. You have the strength to overcome. Don’t be scared. Don’t stop. There’s nothing worse than a young person who has retired before his or her time. I don’t know at what age people retire in the United States, but can you imagine a young person who’s 25 years old, who’s retired? Terrible. Always move forward with courage and with hope. And God, if you ask him, will give you hope. This is my response Valery. And I thank you for the song.
Testimony of Alexandra Vázquez, who lost her father. (Didn’t ask a question but the Pope made a comment)
Pope Francis: Thank you very much, Alexandra. Go on along the path. God bless you.
Connection to Los Angeles. People came together from different shelters that protect poor and homeless people in Los Angeles.
Testimony of Marcos, 19, a homeless youth who dreams of becoming a musician.
Marcos: I know why you are so important for me, but why is this trip to the United States so important for you?
Pope Francis: For me it’s important to meet with you, the citizens of the United States, who have your history, your culture, your virtues, your joys, your sorrows, your problems like every people. I am at the service of all churches and all men and women of good will. For me something very important is proximity. For me it’s difficult not to be closes to the people. Instead, when I get close to the people, as I am going to do with you all, I find it easier to understand them and help them on the path of life. It’s because of this that this trip is so important, to make me close to your path and history.
Testimony of Alyssa Farfan, 11, and her mother Rosemary, a single mother. They lived in a homeless shelter, but have just been granted their first apartment. (Didn’t ask a question but the Pope made a comment.)
Pope Francis: Thank you Rosemary, for your testimony. I want to tell you one thing. I know that it’s not easy to be a single mother, I know that people can sometimes look at you badly, but I tell you one thing, you’re a brave woman because you were able to bring two daughters into the world. You could have killed them in the womb, and you respected life, respected the life that you had inside of yours, and for this God is going to reward you, and is rewarding you. Don’t be ashamed, go forward with your head held high: “I did not kill my daughters, I brought them into the world.” I congratulate you, I congratulate you, and may God bless you.
Connection with Texas in Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, on the border of Mexico.
Testimony of Ricardo Ortiz, 19, who emigrated to the U.S. from Mexico on a tourist visa when he was 4 years old. His father at times had difficulty finding work because he was undocumented. When Ricardo was around 17, his father had an accident and wasn’t able to work at all. For a time Ricardo had to take care of his family of 6, but then his father helped pay for his studies when Ricardo’s scholarship was revoked because he was not a U.S. citizen.
Ricardo Ortiz: With all the problems there are in the world: poverty, our educational system, immigration…what do you think is the solution to all of these problems?
Pope Francis: Obviously listening to your story I can say that life has made you a father early because from very young you had to maintain your family during your father’s illness. But you knew how to do it because you had a father with the courage to start you on this path of work and struggle, and the courage after to help you study at the cost of sacrifices. In this life there are many injustices, and as a believer, as a Christian, the first who suffered…who condensed himself, was Jesus. Jesus was born on the street, born homeless, his mother didn’t have a place to give birth to him. Always look to the figure of Jesus. You ask me how. Looking at the figure of Jesus we take another step. God sometimes speaks to us with words, as in history, with situations. And God at times, many times, speaks to us with his silence. When I see – what you ask me – to number of people who are starving, which doesn’t need to grow, who don’t have good health, that a child dies, who have no education, the number of people who don’t have a house, the number of people who today, we are seeing them, migrate from their country seeking a better future and they die, so many die along the way, I look to Jesus on the Cross and discover the silence of God. The first silence of God is on the Cross of Jesus. The greatest injustice history and God was silent. That said, I’m going to be more concrete in the response on other levels, but don’t forget that God speaks to us with words, with gestures and with silences. And what you ask me is only understood in the silence of God, and the silence of God is only understood by looking at the Cross.
What to do? The world has to be more aware that the exploitation of each other is not a path. All of us are created for social friendship. All of us have responsibility for everyone. No one can say: ‘my responsibility reaches here.’ We are all responsible for everyone, and to help ourselves in the way that each one can. Social friendship, this is what God created us for. But there is one very nasty word which also appears on the first page of the bible. God says it to the devil, the father of lies, to the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman.” And the word enmity grew throughout history, and a little after this exchange, the first enmity between brothers: Cain killed Abel. The first injustice. From here on, wars, destructions. From here on, hatred. Speaking in soccer terms, I would say that the match is played between friendship in society and enmity in society. Each one has to make a choice in his or her heart, and we have to help that choice to be made in the heart. Escaping through addictions or violence doesn’t help, only closeness and giving of myself what I can – like you gave everything you could when as a child you sustained your family. Don’t forget this, social friendship against the answer of the world which is social enmity: “Fix yourself and may others fix themselves alone.” This is not the plan of God. This is what occurs to me to tell you, and also to express my admiration, life made you a father very young. Now when you are a real father and have your own children may you continue to educate them on the path that you learned from your father. Thank you.
Testimony of Wilma, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador who wears an ankle bracelet. She wanted a better life for her son Ernesto, who was born with a congenital disease in his eyes and can’t see. She asked for a blessing from the Holy Father and he gave it. After, the Pope asked for a nun who was seen on the screen and directed some words to her. This is Sister Norma.
Pope Francis: Sister, through you I want to thank all religious sisters of the United States. The work that the religious sisters have done and do in the United States is great. I congratulate you. Be courageous. Move forward, always on the front line. And I tell you one thing more – is ok for the Pope to say this? I don’t know – I love you all very much!
Testimony of Wendy, 11, who has just arrived from El Salvador because of gang violence. The child, crying, recounted the dramatic days of the trip. She drew a picture for the Pope, and the Pope thanked her.
At the end of the video conference the Pope was given a crucifix made by the students of Chicago.
David Muir: Holy Father, do you have a final message?
Pope Francis: That I am very hopeful to meet you. That I am praying for you, for all the American people and I ask you please to pray for me. Thank you.