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Immigrants, advocates looking forward to pope's speech in Philly: 'He is our voice'

Members of the Neocatechumenal Way of Orange County, California in front of St. John The Evangelist Church in Philadelphia.

Members of the Neocatechumenal Way of Orange County, California in front of St. John The Evangelist Church in Philadelphia.  (2015 Getty Images)

Hundreds of thousands of Roman Catholics are making the pilgrimage to Philadelphia to see Pope Francis on the last leg of his historical visit to the United States. Among them, immigrants from across the country with mounting expectations about what the Argentinian pontiff will have to say this evening during his immigration speech at the Independence Hall. 

The 78-year-old pope will speak from the lectern Abraham Lincoln used to deliver the Gettysburg Address.

Pope Francis' plane touched down at the Philadelphia airport after takeoff from New York, bringing him to a city of blocked-off streets, sidewalks lined with portable potties, and checkpoints manned by police, National Guardsmen and border agents.

Two blocks from The Cathedral Basilica of St. Peter and Paul where Pope Francis was holding mass Saturday morning, the Neocatechumenal Way strummed their guitars and rhythmically banged drums outside one of the many checkpoints dotted around the city.

The California faith-based group traveled cross country to hear the pontiff's message on immigration later in the day and to experience what some have described the Latino moment of the first pope from Latin America's trip to the U.S.

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"We came here to see Pope Francis," Luz Maria Trejo, a member of the group told Fox News Latino. "He nurtures our soul and spirit."

While the pontiff touched on the issue of immigration during his address to Congress on Thursday in Washington, his speech at Independence Hall is expected to focus heavily on the issue and, from the large number of people of Hispanic descent to converge in Philadelphia, it appears that it is topic that will be met with open ears.

"He's got a message that message that says we all deserve a chance," Marielisa Amador of Miami told FNL.

Francis has made migration the top priority of his pontificate. His first trip outside Rome as pope was to the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, Ground Zero of Europe's migration crisis where some 365 migrants drowned within view of shore in October 2013. He has decried the "inhuman" conditions facing migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border and encouraged frontier communities to not judge people by stereotypes but rather welcome migrants and work to end discrimination.

"The pope is the voice of all the immigrants that are here," Trejo said. "God has united all the nations and through the pope he's saying you're all brothers and sisters."

Besides Francis' message on immigration, many of the Latino faithful in Philadelphia are excited that the Catholic Church finally has a leader from their region of the world -and one who speaks their language.

"It's so beautiful," Trejo said. "Spanish is such an expressive language and to hear the pope speak it is just amazing."

After speeches to Congress and the United Nations earlier this week aimed at spurring world leaders toward bold action on immigration and the environment, he is expected to focus more heavily on ordinary Catholics during his two days in Philadelphia.

Francis will be the star attraction at the World Meeting of Families, a conference for more than 18,000 people from around the world. The weekend's activities will culminate in an outdoor Mass Sunday evening for 1 million people on the broad Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It will be the last major event of his U.S. visit before he leaves that night for Rome.

On the first two legs of his six-day U.S. journey, in Washington and New York, Francis was greeted by throngs of cheering, weeping well-wishers hoping for a glance or a touch from the wildly popular spiritual leader, despite unprecedented security.

The Philadelphia visit, months in the making, all but paralyzed Center City, with stretches of Broad and Market Streets and other routes closed to all but pedestrians and lined with metal crowd-control barricades, massive concrete blocks and tall fences.

"He has a magnetic personality that not only appeals to Catholics, but to the universal masses. He's not scripted. He's relatable. His heart, in itself, you can see that reflected through his message," said Filipina Opena, 46, a Catholic from LaMirada, California, as tour groups and families walked among Philadelphia's historic sites ahead of the pope's visit. "People feel he's sincere and he's genuine."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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