On Saturday, September 26, Mayor Michael A. Nutter delivered the following remarks at Independence National Historic Park during the lead up to Pope Francis’ speech on Immigration and Religion Freedom. Check against delivery.
“Good afternoon. I want to recognize all of our dignitaries and special guests.
I am deeply honored to welcome Pope Francis and all of you to the City of Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families.
And, what better place for Pope Francis to end his historic trip to the United States of America than in William Penn’s Green Countrie Town, the home of his Great Experiment.
Persecuted for his religious beliefs, William Penn established the Colony of Pennsylvania with a democratic system, complete religious freedom for all and fair trials. He built a community on the tenets of tolerance, consensus and love.
And, those values live on in the soul of our great city, the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.
Today, Philadelphia is a diverse city, a city of immigrants, a cosmopolitan city of all races and all faiths. We are a welcoming city – no matter your ethnicity, income or sexual orientation.
Now, we are standing just steps from the doors of Independence Hall.
Here, our Founding Fathers crafted the single greatest document proclaiming human freedom, the Declaration of Independence, promising that all men are created equal and had the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Here, our new nation, one nation under God, was born.
Benjamin Franklin said, “Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature.”
When Pope Francis speaks to us, he will be standing at a lectern used by President Abraham Lincoln to deliver the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln, who spoke of our nation’s “great task remaining” to make real “…a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.”
In just 272 words, Lincoln brought our country, nearly torn apart by the Civil War, one step closer to the more perfect union that we perpetually strive to be.
And from that podium, Pope Francis will share his message of love. He will call for more dialogue and understanding and he will challenge us to reach out to the vulnerable, the poor and the powerless.
We’ve gathered this week in celebration of the family. Pope Francis calls family an essential element in the growth of a great nation.
But, he doesn’t define its composition. Instead, he talks about the bonds of familial love, the richness and the beauty of family life.
Love warms the family hearth and creates a powerful foundation, and that energy radiates outward into the community where each of us lives.
It transforms individual family units into strong communities with shared responsibilities and hopes in common.
Love encourages us to see our neighbors as our brothers and sisters, no matter their orientation, religious affiliation, nation of origin, race or economic status.
Speaking to Congress on Thursday, Pope Francis invoked the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
In a world of great diversity, this bold Christian challenge asks us to treat every person we encounter with compassion and empathy, including those who are different from us, those who do not look like us or talk like us.
The strangers in our midst. The outsiders in our communities. The marginalized men, women and children in our society.
As Pope Francis said, we are all immigrants – whether we arrived 10 generations ago or 10 minutes ago.
Immigrants are not the serpent in the garden, they are the man on the road to Jericho in need of a good Samaritan.
We must remember that these pilgrims long to become part of the American people. This nation has been strengthened by their labors, their love and their dreams.
This is certainly true in our great city. Philadelphia has benefitted from the new business, energy and ideas of our vibrant immigrant community. And, our city and this nation will prosper with common-sense immigration reform that offers a pathway to citizenship for thousands of hardworking people.
On this point, there is a great debate in America as we head toward the next Presidential election. We can’t let the rhetoric, xenophobia and racism of some carry the day.
More than 125 years ago, France gave us a great lady to stand watch in the harbor of New York City and welcome our new Americans.
When the huddled masses, the tired, the poor and the weary knocked at our doors, we opened them. We said you are home.
We can’t turn our backs on these strangers in our midst now.
As a nation of immigrants, we must stand together and remember that love is stronger than hate, fear and prejudice. We must embrace our immigrant brothers and sisters, for these new Americans, these pilgrims, want the same rights and freedoms that each of us has.
We should rejoice in their American dreams and support them as part of our American family.
And so, just as Lincoln’s America did more than 150 years ago, our country continues to strive to be that more perfect union.
As a nation, we still struggle with supporting our most vulnerable citizens, our homeless and our poor – the marginalized men, women and children in our society.
And the outsiders in our community, who look like us and talk like us and differ in only the most personal and private way, they face barriers to acceptance every day.
John F. Kennedy, our first and only Catholic President, said, “Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.”
We must maintain our collective fight against discrimination and oppression. In America, everyone has rights.
Our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens continue to fight for equal rights.
When speaking to the Bishops of the United States of America, Pope Francis said, “May no member of Christ’s Body and the American people feel excluded from the Pope’s embrace.”
He said previously when asked a question, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
I do not judge, but I can give testimony.
A gay man, John C. Anderson gave me an opportunity to enter politics and is responsible for me being in public service today.
Today, I thank John C. Anderson for his service, mentorship and courage.
Who are any of us to judge the lives of others?
The scripture tells us – Judge not, lest ye be judged.
We are one society, one people, one family.
To the LGBT community – remember the words of Fredrick Douglas, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
Keep fighting for your rights. You have many others fighting for you.
Whether an individual is gay or straight, an immigrant or natural born citizen, wealthy or poor, what matters most is our humanity, our willingness to do good, to build up others and to make better this world, our society, our global community and our human family.
Or as Sojourner Truth, a pioneer of many causes for equality and human freedom, so eloquently said, “The spirit calls me and I must go.”
And so, let the spiritual message of Pope Francis, a message of love and compassion, of dialogue and service to others, move all of us to more action, more compassion and more love for all across our country and around the world.
God bless you Philadelphia.
God bless America.
And, God bless Pope Francis.”