SAN DIEGO – Pope Francis is beloved precisely because he doesn’t believe he’s anything special. He frustrates his security detail by venturing into crowds, showing kindness to children and the physically challenged.
This is the unique gift of the pontiff formerly known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Pope Saint John Paul II, the fierce opponent of communism in his native Poland and around the world, had an ironclad moral righteousness. Pope Benedict XVI, the former theology professor, has a world-class intellect. Francis is blessed with the ability to connect with everyday people. This is what’s fueling the “Francis Effect” that appears to be re-energizing Catholics around the world.
Yet, while he’s being hailed as the people’s pope, Francis is also the immigrants’ pope. As he sees it, it’s those folks who are on the move who are truly special.
As the Holy Father stressed during his recent visit to the United States, anyone brave enough to leave his family, friends and fatherland and migrate to another country should be appreciated, not scorned.
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In his historic address to Congress, Francis recalled that “in recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom” and that sadly “the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected.” We can do better, the pontiff insisted, reminding the lawmakers that “when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past” but instead “live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our ‘neighbors’ and everything around us.” After all, Francis concluded, “building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity.”
Later, in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Francis acknowledged that “among us today are members of America’s large Hispanic population, as well as representatives of recent immigrants to the United States” whom he greeted with “particular affection.” Those who come to the United States from Latin America often do so, he said, “at great personal cost, but in the hope of building a new life.” Speaking in Spanish, he admonished the newcomers: “You are also called to be responsible citizens, and to contribute fruitfully to the life of the communities in which you live.” Finally, in the part of his speech that drew the loudest applause, the pope said: “I ask you not to forget that, like those who came here before you, you bring many gifts to your new nation. You should never be ashamed of your traditions.”
Francis is right that immigrants have always had it hard in America, and politicians don’t make it any easier. It was surreal to watch him call for a warmer welcome for immigrants from Democrats who make excuses for President Barack Obama, who has deported 2 million people and detained hundreds of child refugees from Central America, and Republicans who want Obama to remove even more immigrants while refusing to get tough on employers.
Presidential candidates are not much better. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton last year advised sending the child refugees home without so much as a hearing and Bernie Sanders thinks that the concept of open borders is a right-wing plot to lower the wages of working Americans. Among Republicans, Chris Christie wants to track visa overstayers as if they were FedEx packages and Donald Trump plans to build a “big, beautiful wall” along the nearly 2,000-mile-long U.S.-Mexico border.
But Rick Santorum takes the cake – or, in this case, the flan. While his fellow GOP contenders are focused on combating illegal immigration, the former senator from Pennsylvania has gone all in and called for limiting legal immigration as well.
Unfortunately, he is not alone. There are those Americans who want to seal the U.S.-Mexico border and deport every illegal immigrant because, they say, people ought to play by the rules. But a growing number also want to limit the number of legal immigrants, or impose a five-year moratorium on immigration, so as to penalize those who play by the rules. Welcome to Wonderland.
How did Santorum, a devout Catholic, mark the visit to his home state by the immigrants’ pope? He tweeted a photo of his daughter, Bella, being blessed by Francis.
Santorum should have skipped the tweet, and heeded the sermon.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.