As Pope Francis arrived at the Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem this afternoon, about 250 students from area schools were there to greet him outside, holding cameras and chanting, "Holy father, we love you."
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A smiling Francis touched several children on the head. He walked up and down the street talking with the students and attempting to make time with as many as possible.
"It's the pope!" one girl exclaimed.
Inside, the pope met with children who proudly showed them their school projects. Many of the interactions with students were in Spanish.
In a funny moment, a tiny child yelled out "Hi" during a moment of silence, and the pope laughed.
In his speech, Francis called school "a second home."
"This is not only important for you, but also for your families," he said. "School then ends up being one big family. One where, together with our mothers and fathers, our grandparents, our teachers and friends, we learn to help one another, to share our good qualities, to give the best of ourselves, to work as a team and to pursue our dreams."
Francis ended his speech by assigning the children some homework: "It is just a little request, but a very important one," Francis sad. "Please don’t forget to pray for me, so that I can share with many people the joy of Jesus. And let us also pray so that many other people can share the joy like yours."
He was set to hold two intimate events inside the school, one with students, and a second one with refugees helped by Catholic Charities in New York. There were about 150 refugees at the school to see the pope, from every continent except Antarctica.
Here is the full text of the speech Pope Francis was slated to give to the children, as translated by the Holy See:
I am very happy to be with you today, along with this big family which surrounds you. I see your teachers, your parents and your family members. Thank you for letting me come, and I ask pardon from your teachers for “stealing” a few minutes of their class time!
They tell me that one of the nice things about this school is that some of its students come from other places, even from other countries. That is nice! Even though I know that it is not easy to have to move and find a new home, new neighbors and new friends. It is not easy. At the beginning it can be hard, right? Often you have to learn a new language, adjust to a new culture, even a new climate. There is so much to learn! And not just at school.
The good thing is that we also make new friends, we meet people who open doors for us, who are kind to us. They offer us friendship and understanding, and they try to help us not to feel like strangers. To feel at home. How nice it is to feel that school is a second home. This is not only important for you, but also for your families. School then ends up being one big family. One where, together with our mothers and fathers, our grandparents, our teachers and friends, we learn to help one another, to share our good qualities, to give the best of ourselves, to work as a team and to pursue our dreams.
Very near here is a very important street named after a man who did a lot for other people. I want to talk a little bit about him. He was the Reverend Martin Luther King. One day he said, “I have a dream”. His dream was that many children, many people could have equal opportunities. His dream was that many children like you could get an education. It is beautiful to have dreams and to be able to fight for them.
Today we want to keep dreaming. We celebrate all the opportunities which enable you, and us adults, not to lose the hope of a better world with greater possibilities. I know that one of the dreams of your parents and teachers is that you can grow up and be happy. It is always good to see children smiling. Here I see you smiling. Keep smiling and help bring joy to everyone you meet.
Dear children, you have a right to dream and I am very happy that here in this school, in your friends and your teachers, you can find the support you need. Wherever there are dreams, there is joy, Jesus is always present. Because Jesus is joy, and he wants to help us to feel that joy every day of our lives.
Before going, I want to give you some homework. Can I? It is just a little request, but a very important one. Please don’t forget to pray for me, so that I can share with many people the joy of Jesus. And let us also pray so that many other people can share the joy like yours.
May God bless you today and Our Lady protect you.