RELIGION
09/25/2015 05:03 pm ET Updated Sep 25, 2015

Pope Urges Immigrants, East Harlem Children To 'Keep Dreaming'

Francis evoked the spirit of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in his address.

Pope Francis arrived at a school in New York's East Harlem on Friday to chants of "Holy Father, we love you!"

The children sang the "Prayer of St. Francis" in English and Spanish, as the pontiff entered the building. Inside, a group of third- and fourth-graders showed him school projects they were working on that align with his focus on the environment.

Speaking later in the school gym, he shared an inspiring message. 

"It is beautiful to have dreams and to be able to fight for them. Today we want to keep dreaming," said Francis, evoking the words of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. "We celebrate all the opportunities which enable you, and us adults, not to lose the hope of a better world with greater possibilities."

Pope Francis arrives at Our Lady Queen of Angels school in East Harlem on Sept. 25.
Eric Thayer-Pool/Getty Images
Pope Francis arrives at Our Lady Queen of Angels school in East Harlem on Sept. 25.

The pope noted that many of the students at Our Lady Queen of Angels and three other local Catholic schools represented at the event come from minority and immigrant communities.

"I know that it is not easy to have to move and find a new home, new neighbors and new friends," the pontiff said. "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."

About 70 percent of the students at Our Lady Queen of Angels identify as Hispanic, while 22 percent identify as African-American. Sixty-nine percent qualify for need-based scholarships, according to The Partnership for Inner-City Education, a school management organization that operates six Catholic schools in Harlem and the South Bronx. 

After talking with the young children, the pontiff headed into the gym where immigrants and refugees were gathered to hear his message of hope. The men and women -- who hailed from Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Honduras, India, Pakistan and parts of Africa -- are clients of the archdiocese's Catholic Charities program. Among them were day laborers, car wash workers, immigrant mothers and a group of unaccompanied minors who crossed the border without their parents and helped start a soccer league in the Bronx.

Francis received gifts from representatives of different immigrant groups, including a book of stories by diaspora communities in New York City. He had brought Our Lady Queen of Angels a wooden sculpture of the Virgin Mary with an infant Jesus.

At the end of his brief address, which he delivered in Spanish, the pope asked his listeners for their help. "Please don't forget to pray for me, so that I can share with many people the joy of Jesus," he said.

He also asked them to sing for him. Two different groups of immigrants obliged.

Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities, said the pope's visit to East Harlem was "his most important stop." 

The school is connected to the now-defunct Our Lady Queen of Angels parish. The church closed down in 2007 as part of the New York archdiocese's reorganization and consolidation, which was prompted by declining attendance and a shortage of priests. A group of former parishioners who still meet outside the church on Sundays hope the pope's visit will bring attention to their efforts to re-open the house of worship.

After the East Harlem visit, Francis heads to Madison Square Garden to celebrate Mass. He flies to Philadelphia on Saturday morning, where he will address immigrants gathered at Independence Mall, visit inmates at a local prison and lead two Masses on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. He heads back to Rome on Sunday, Sept. 27.

Also on HuffPost:

  • Goodbye Pope Francis!
    Pope Francis looks out the window of his plane before departing Philadelphia on September 27, 2015 at the end of his six-day
    NICHOLAS KAMM via Getty Images
    Pope Francis looks out the window of his plane before departing Philadelphia on September 27, 2015 at the end of his six-day visit to the US. 
  • People pray during a mass celebrated by Pope Francis.
    BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI via Getty Images
    People pray during a mass celebrated by Pope Francis.
  • A family watches a Mass on a large screen with Pope Francis in downtown Philadelphia.
    ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS via Getty Images
    A family watches a Mass on a large screen with Pope Francis in downtown Philadelphia.
  • A family prays as they watch a Mass on a large screen.
    ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS via Getty Images
    A family prays as they watch a Mass on a large screen.
  • A family watches a Mass on a large screen with Pope Francis in downtown Philadelphia.
    ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS via Getty Images
    A family watches a Mass on a large screen with Pope Francis in downtown Philadelphia.
  • Catholic devotees sing as they watch Pope Francis' Mass.
    ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS via Getty Images
    Catholic devotees sing as they watch Pope Francis' Mass.
  • Women pray as they watch the Mass.
    ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS via Getty Images
    Women pray as they watch the Mass.
  •  A U.S. Army serviceman receives communion during a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis at Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
    Pool via Getty Images
     A U.S. Army serviceman receives communion during a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis at Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
  • Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli (C) walks to receive communion.
    Pool via Getty Images
    Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli (C) walks to receive communion.
  • Catholic devotees watch a Mass on a large screen with Pope Francis in downtown Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 27, 20
    ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS via Getty Images
    Catholic devotees watch a Mass on a large screen with Pope Francis in downtown Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 27, 2015. AFP PHOTO/ ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS (Photo credit should read Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)
  • A woman does the sign of the cross as she take part in a Mass with Pope Francis in downtown Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Sep
    ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS via Getty Images
    A woman does the sign of the cross as she take part in a Mass with Pope Francis in downtown Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 27, 2015. AFP PHOTO/ ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS (Photo credit should read Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)
  • People pray during a mass celebrated by Pope Francis for the World Meeting of Families on Benjamin Franklin Parkway September
    BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI via Getty Images
    People pray during a mass celebrated by Pope Francis for the World Meeting of Families on Benjamin Franklin Parkway September 27, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Pope Francis is in the United State for the last of 6 days during his first trip as the leader of the Catholic Church. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
  • Priests offer the crowd communion at Mass along Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sept. 27, 2015.
    Jaweed Kaleem/The Huffington Post
    Priests offer the crowd communion at Mass along Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sept. 27, 2015.
  • PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 27: Pope Francis celebrates mass during the World Meeting of Families on September 27, 2015 in P
    Justin Sullivan via Getty Images
    PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 27: Pope Francis celebrates mass during the World Meeting of Families on September 27, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 
  • PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 27: Pope Francis delivers the homily as he celebrates mass at the World Meeting of Families at B
    Pool via Getty Images
    PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 27: Pope Francis delivers the homily as he celebrates mass at the World Meeting of Families at Benjamin Franklin Parkway on September 27, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 
  • Pope Francis celebrates Mass at Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on September 27, 2015. 
    VINCENZO PINTO via Getty Images
    Pope Francis celebrates Mass at Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on September 27, 2015. 
  • Chalices for communion are set during a mass celebrated by Pope Francis at Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, Pennsyl
    VINCENZO PINTO via Getty Images
    Chalices for communion are set during a mass celebrated by Pope Francis at Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on September 27, 2015. 
  • PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 27: Pope Francis greets corrections officers during a visit to the Curran-Fromhold Correction Fa
    Pool via Getty Images
    PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 27: Pope Francis greets corrections officers during a visit to the Curran-Fromhold Correction Facility September 27, 015 in in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  • Pope Francis waves to the audience after speaking at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, September 27, 2015 in Wynnewwod, Pennsy
    Drew Angerer via Getty Images
    Pope Francis waves to the audience after speaking at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, September 27, 2015 in Wynnewwod, Pennsylvania. After visiting Washington and New York City, Pope Francis concludes his tour of the U.S. with events in Philadelphia on Saturday and Sunday. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
  • Pope Francis presents an image of Our Lady of Charity from Cuba to Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia, at Saint Charl
    Drew Angerer via Getty Images
    Pope Francis presents an image of Our Lady of Charity from Cuba to Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia, at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary.
  • Pope Francis met privately with survivors of sexual abuse at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary on Sunday morning.&nbsp;<br><br>Re
    ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS via Getty Images
    Pope Francis met privately with survivors of sexual abuse at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary on Sunday morning. 

    Read more here.
  • PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 26: Pope Francis attends the Festival of Families along Benjamin Franklin Parkway on September 2
    Pool via Getty Images
    PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 26: Pope Francis attends the Festival of Families along Benjamin Franklin Parkway on September 26, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Pope Francis wraps up his trip to the United States with two days in Philadelphia, attending the Festival of Families and meeting with prisoners at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. (Photo by Eric Thayer-Pool/Getty Images)
  • Pope Francis arrives for the Festival of Families in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 26, 2015.  AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO
    VINCENZO PINTO via Getty Images
    Pope Francis arrives for the Festival of Families in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 26, 2015. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
CONVERSATIONS