NJ immigrant group: Pope understands our challenges
Standing at the podium where President Abraham Lincoln delivered the famed Gettysburg Address, Pope Francis told a crowd of 40,000 - many of them immigrants — not to be discouraged by whatever hardships they face.
For many in New Jersey, the pontiff's message humanized a situation that has been gaining increased attention in recent months.
Juan Carlos Ruiz, president of the board of directors at Wind of the Spirit Immigrant resource center in Morristown, believes the pope has a deep understanding of the challenges many immigrants face.
In his speech at Independence Hall, the pope called on the faithful to help defend the cause of the poor and the immigrants.
"Too often those most in need everywhere are unable to be heard. Uou are their voice," Pope Francis said.
The pontiff told those listening to his speech that we should remind the American democracy of the ideals on which the country was founded and that "society is weakened whenever any injustice prevails."
"I do believe that he has a good grasp of the challenges before us. He really places himself within the content of being an immigrant himself," said Ruiz, a native of Mexico who has lived in the United States for 27 years and was, himself, undocumented for a few years when he first arrived. "He puts himself in the shoes of those who have been displaced and forced to move."
As he spoke, Pope Francis told the crowd that the history of this nation "is also the tale of a constant effort, lasting to our day, to embody those lofty principles in social and political life."
"We remember the great struggles which led to the abolition of slavery...and the gradual effort to eliminate every kind of racism and prejudice directed at the successive waves of new Americans," the pope said.
The pontiff also spoke to immigrants, calling on them to be responsible citizens, and also to hold on to their traditions.
"Many of you have immigrated and I greet you with particular affection. Many of you have immigrated to this country at great personal cost, but in the hope of building a new life. Do not be discouraged by whatever challenges and hardships you face," the pope said. "I ask you not to forget like those who came here before you. You bring many gifts to this nation. Please don't ever be ashamed on your traditions. Do not forget the lessons you learned from your elders, which is something that may enrich the life of this American land."
Ruiz, a former Catholic priest who is now a Lutheran minister, said the pontiff's message and stance on immigration puts a face on the issue, which has become a political football in recent months as we move toward the 2016 presidential election.
"His voice carries a moral weight," Ruiz said. "Sometimes the current politicians want to do away with the humanity of the situation. He's bringing us back to a more balanced sense of humanity. They're not much different from us. I mean look at their faces...listen to their stories."