As we bid Pope Francis goodbye and we begin to process the many powerful messages and symbols that he delivered to our collective consciousness, we have to decide as individuals, as communities, and as a country where we want to begin to act on his persistent and emphatic call to “remember the poor”. As a long dejected, frustrated, and often, disgusted Catholic, I spent the entire week glued to my television, my car radio, and phone hoping not to miss any vital words of inspiration that would convince me to return to the fold of a Church that represents my family’s heritage and is indelibly printed into my identity as a Latin-American. The truth is that he had me at “I am the son of an immigrant.” He completed the spiritual “double nelson” when a few minutes later, he spontaneously and firmly asked his security detail to bring him a little girl who ran from behind the barrier and chased the Pope-mobile trying to hand-deliver a letter. Francis blessed many children who were brought to him during his visit, but there was only one time in which he asked that a child, from the crowd of thousands, be brought to him. Her name is Sophie and she is the US born daughter of an undocumented migrant worker. She is the child of generations of Hispanics who have been cloaked with invisibility and indifference, although our astonishing work ethic and tireless labor are vital to many segments of our economy. No American can spend an entire day without benefiting directly from the labor that immigrant Hispanics provide: most of our food is picked, processed, prepared, and served by people like Sophie’s family. We are over 55 million strong, approaching 20% of the American population, yet we are seldom invited to discussions about our presence and the positive impact we have on our country. We are referred to as “strangers”, “foreigners” and “illegals” although some us have been here for many generations. This week, for a brief moment, Pope Francis removed the cloak, and the world saw us when the first words he uttered on American soil were to speak of himself as an immigrant. For a moment the word immigrant had dignity and hope, and wasn’t a racial slur. We were important when he chose to canonize an immigrant who served his mission in California, where we are now over 50% of the population. He gave us value and respect, when he spoke in Spanish and reminded us that being bilingual is an asset, not a deficit. He was smart and strategic when he asked for justice for the millions of immigrants who are in legal limbo. He recognizes that Latinos are essential to the survival of his Church, in the US and the world. A fact that is analogous to the critical role that Latinos will play in the next election and the future of our nation. Francis’ words were gentle and humble, and his blessing of Sophie lasted as long as the flap of a butterfly wing, but I believe that in that instant Francis began an epic effect that will rock our future world. I don’t know about you, but I got his message loud and clear, and I know exactly where we need to begin to serve the under-served.
Pilar Torres, Ed.M.
Johns Hopkins University- School of Education