NEW YORK (AP) – Pope Francis will offer a special blessing to a group of immigrants and refugees in New York, including those who are undocumented, highlighting two contentious issues in American politics.
The Sept. 25 encounter with about 150 mostly Spanish-speaking New Yorkers "is about the values and the message that he has articulated as pope," the head of New York's Catholic Charities, Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, told a news conference Thursday at a church in Harlem.
Francis has made helping immigrants a top priority of his pontificate, decrying what he called the "globalization of indifference" toward migrants and refugees. The pope will address a joint meeting of Congress on Sept. 24, where he is expected to press lawmakers for generous and welcoming policies toward immigrants. His efforts come as questions intensify about inaction over Syria's civil war and Europe's migrant crisis.
By contrast, Donald Trump, currently the leading Republican presidential candidate, says he would deport millions of undocumented immigrants.
Among those the pope will bless at Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem are youngsters from violence-torn Central American countries who crossed the border alone, refugees who fled persecution and are seeking asylum, struggling American-born minorities and disabled immigrants. Francis will also meet a group of Catholic schoolchildren.
Manhattan resident Yvette Suazo, her 14-year-old daughter, Chelsea, and 4-year-old son Kingson hitchhiked from Honduras to the U.S. about two years ago. Life at home had become precarious, with her daughter in danger of being raped each time she left the house, the mother said after the news conference.
Asked whether she had documents allowing her to live in New York legally, Suazo said, in Spanish, "Nada" — nothing. As a result, she cannot look for a job and depends on her sister while her status is clarified.
"But I hope the opportunity to be here legally will open for us," she said in Spanish.
The insecurity did not deter those who were introduced at the church from giving their names and describing their plight.
"I left because of the crime and so many people on drugs," said Cristhian Contreras, who was 14 when he and a few friends fled from Honduras by foot across the U.S. border.
Now 16, he lives in the Bronx, attends high school and is a member of a soccer team with fellow immigrants. His mother works as a housekeeper, but fears deportation. He never knew his father.
Cristhian is counting on the pope's blessing, he said as smile filled his face. He added, this time in Spanish, "I'm one of the few people invited to be with the pope. And if I have the chance, I'll ask him to pray for us and our countries."