Pope Francis was visibly relaxed for the first time in several days Friday afternoon as he visited a Catholic school in Harlem, N.Y.
In a short sermon to students and parents, as well as local Catholic Charities aid recipients who are predominantly immigrants, he spoke about how difficult it can be to feel at home in a new country — to find “a new home, new neighbors and new friends.”
The pope said that immigrants are grateful for “good people who help us feel at home,” like those who work for Catholic Charities. But sometimes, life’s hardships lead to sadness. (RELATED: Reporters Asked Pope Francis About Being Communist. Here’s What He Said.)
“Who is it who makes you sad?” he asked. “The devil! The devil is always sowing sadness, because he doesn’t want to see us happy.”
Amid their difficulties, Francis urged them to “keep dreaming” and to “help bring joy to everyone you meet” — because “wherever there is joy, Jesus is always present.” (RELATED: Pope Francis: Preaching Jesus Means Fearlessly ‘Moving Forward’)
When he arrived, he and New York archbishop Cardinal Timothy Dolan toured classrooms, where children from local Catholic schools presented different projects. (At one point, he needed some help operating the touch screen of an instructional “smartboard.”) He then entered the school’s gym, where older students and Catholic Charities recipients were assembled.
There, he watched the “official Catholic Charities soccer team” show off their moves, received a symbolic tool belt from a crew of day laborers, and preached about joy. (RELATED: At Lunch With Homeless (Not Congress), Pope Francis Highlights Jesus’ Poverty)
He also told the children and adults, gathered after school on a Friday afternoon, that “I would like to give you some homework.” Echoing the message he brings to every audience that listens, he asked them to pray for him, “so that I can share with many people the joy of Jesus.”
After the sermon, Francis asked off-the-cuff: “Would anybody like to sing a song? Who’s the bravest?” And as he left — two Spanish folk songs and an Our Father later, he told the crowd in English, “don’t forget the homework!”
The school he visited, Our Lady Queen of Angels, teaches kindergarten through eighth grade. It was attached to a parish until 2007, when New York’s Catholic archdiocese shut the church down as part of a consolidation program for the sake of financial solvency.
The pope’s schedule in the United States focuses on the marginalized members of society, including prisoners, immigrants and the homeless. And even in locations as lofty as the U.N., he consistently preaches about how respect for the individual human person must be at the center of any social initiative.
Pope Francis will travel to Philadelphia Saturday, for a two-day stay at a conference in defense of Catholic teaching on marriage and the family.
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