East Harlem gears up for Pope Francis' visit, pro-immigrant message of inclusion

Thursday, September 3, 2015
Pope Francis to greet thousands during procession through Central Park
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EAST HARLEM (WABC) -- Pope Francis has quickly established himself as a "pope of the people," and that common touch will be on full display in New York City in just a few weeks.

"We think that this is the perfect place for Pope Francis to visit," Catholic Charities Monsignor Kevin Sullivan said. "And we're just incredibly appreciative that Pope Francis and Cardinal Dolan decided that this was one of the places that he was going to visit in his brief time in New York."

As part of his visit to East Harlem on September 25, the pope will meet with immigrants and refugees who have been helped by Catholic Charities. Some will be blessed by the pontiff himself.

"I can't believe it," resident Martha Bastor said. "I'm excited. I say maybe it's a dream, because many people want to see the pope and can't."

Kimberly Ramirez is the daughter of two immigrants, and she's grateful the pope's visit will highlight the struggle of those who have fought hard to make America home.

"I think it's just great what he's doing," she said. "To come talk about the immigrants and the youth just to let everybody know we're not on a low standing, that we do mean something."

Ramirez also wants to make a plea to the pontiff.

"There's a lot of Catholic churches being closed down, and I would like to know if there's something that he can do so they don't get closed down," she said. "So people do have this one place that they go to feel peace, to feel hopeful, to feel thankful."

Officials say the pope's trip is especially well timed, not just because of the immigration debate going on in the presidential race, but also the ongoing migrant crisis across Europe.

"We need to be an inclusive people," Monsignor Sullivan said. "A people who welcome, a people who value diversity, a people who say, quite frankly, every single individual is made in the likeness of God and is worth compassion, dignity and respect."

Catholic Charities believes this part of the visit will underscore one of the pope's core beliefs.

"The pope will highlight what we have achieved as a community in New York," Sullivan said. "In welcoming people who in some part of the world are not welcome."