An open letter to Pope Francis from a Cuban-American Catholic

Your Holiness,

It is with tremendous anticipation and excitement that your flock here in the United States awaits your visit.  We know it will be your first, and it is our ardent wish that you will come to know us and understand us, so that you will learn to love us, and to feel very much at home--en familia.

When you drive through Central Park, and celebrate mass at the National Cathedral and again in Philadelphia, you will look over seas of joyful faces and you will be struck by how different we all are.

We include the staunch Irish, descended from those that fled the famine, the warm hearted Italians whose forefathers came looking for opportunity and found it, and of course the Hispanics, who fill the churches on Sundays with their affectionate families.

We hope that your heart is captured by the fact the American people are almost all immigrants or descendents of immigrants.

Our country is a destination country, a country that beckons and promises. From its inception it has called with a pure song of hope to people in the last stages of despair. To use your own language, it is a nation of people drawn from the peripheries.

To those whose lives are imperiled by conflict, it promises quiet streets where beloved children can play safely. To those who live in the anxiety of knowing that only one calamity separates them from destitution, it offers the safety net of a deeply charitable society.

To those who live under the tyranny of corrupt governments where only the well connected are safe, America gives a firm assurance of equality before the law.

To those who cannot speak freely of the things that trouble them or gather peacefully with their friends, our country says: Speak up— don’t be afraid! And means it.

If this sounds like a love song, Your Holiness, it is.  It is the love song that the immigrants sing as they fill out their visa applications in Tegucigalpa, or climb into the leaky raft in La Habana, or wave bravely to their families from the gangway in Manila. It is the same song they sang for hundreds of years in the crowded holds of steamers and the clammy decks of wooden ships.

You will be making the journey my own parents made, from Cuba to the United States and I know you will be struck with sharp contrasts in the land of freedom.

The crowds that welcome you in New York City will be lining the streets because they elected to be there. No one will be made to stay away and no one’s absence will be noted by a vindictive government.

You will choose the people you will meet and speak to.  No one will be afraid to tell you frankly about their troubles.  The unruly press will write and opine fearlessly, and fierce arguments over your pronouncements will play out on TV and in the newspapers.

I know you will appreciate all these things for the blessings they are.  But I also know that sometimes it’s difficult, Your Holiness, to understand the loveliness of America from afar.  It seems perhaps a hard place, where too much is made of market forces and too little of the needs of the vulnerable.  Maybe our culture of free enterprise appears too pragmatic, even heartless, to your shepherd’s soul.  If so, I’m hopeful this visit will change your mind and fill you with admiration for our country and its diligent people.

How wonderful if you could learn to appreciate something we immigrants adore about our beautiful America:  it is the land of economic opportunity.

By this I don't mean the chance to make a fortune and go from rags to riches. No, I mean the opportunity to find our human dignity and a fulfilling life through earned success at work.  There is no greater satisfaction than that which comes from earning food for our children with our labor.

No matter if our work is not glamorous, it ennobles and uplifts us just the same, because all honest work is dignified and of transcendent value.

The opportunity to earn an honest living is a blessing that cannot be valued too highly.  Your own father courageously moved his family across the world to achieve this.

You will see, in Cuba, a country whose government has spent decades separating a man’s honest labor from the fruits of it.  Industriousness, self reliance, self respect, and most of all, hope, all quashed under a regime that uses a call for equality as a way to keep its people idle and enslaved.  It is not the same to work for food as to stand in long lines for a rationed handout.  The rice might taste the same, but it comes with the loss of dignity and independence, which breeds despair.

Here, though, you will find a people hard at work, and thriving.  The elements of lasting happiness are alive and well in our land.  We have our faith, and the freedom to exercise it.  We have our families that surround us with affection.  We have strong communities, where we need not feel alone.  And we have meaningful, ennobling work.

I am sure you will see this happiness, this abiding joy, shining from your children’s faces.   It is our affectionate dream, Your Holiness, that when you board the plane that takes you back to Rome, you will be humming our American love song under your breath, and that it stays with you always.