POPE FRANCIS VISITS AMERICA
SEP 26 2015, 5:02 PM ET
by ELIZABETH CHUCK
Watch Live: Pope Francis Continues his Visit to Philadelphia
Speaking at the birthplace of the United States, Pope Francis told immigrants to keep their spirits high in the face of resistance.
"Many of you have emigrated to this country at great personal cost, but in the hope of building a new life. Do not be discouraged by whatever challenges and hardships you face," the pope, standing before Independence Mall in Philadelphia, said Saturday afternoon.
"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."
The speech, which was punctuated by repeated applause, came after a jam-packed day of events for the pontiff, who arrived in Philadelphia on Saturday morning and kicked off the day withMass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul amid high security. It is the third and final city on his historic U.S. trip — which marks the first time the Buenos Aires-born pope has been to America.
RELATED: Pope Francis Calls for Church to Place Greater Value on Women
He called on the large Hispanic population in the U.S., as well as recent immigrants, to be "responsible citizens" who contribute to the communities in which they live.
"By contributing your gifts, you will not only find your place here, you will help to renew society from within," he said in Spanish.
Follow coverage of Pope Francis in America
Francis also took time to reflect on the right to religious freedom.
"I take this opportunity to thank all those, of whatever religion, who have sought to serve the God of peace by building cities of brotherly love, by caring for our neighbors in need, by defending the dignity of God's gift of life in all its stages, by defending the cause of the poor and the immigrant," he said. " All too often, those most in need of our help are unable to be heard. You are their voice, and many of you have faithfully made their cry heard."
Pope Francis arrives in Independence Square in Philadelphia. NBC News
While the event outside Independence Hall — where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were adopted — didn't start until 4:30 p.m. ET, eager crowds began to line up as early as 7 a.m. to claim their spot.
RELATED: Pope Francis Halts Motorcade to Bless Boy with Cerebral Palsy
Later Saturday evening, the pope was expected to address the World Meeting of Families, an international gathering of Catholics, and be serenaded by Aretha Franklin and other performers.
The address along the Independence Mall combined two issues close to Francis' heart: people who emigrate for a better life and the freedom to exercise religion.
RELATED: Philadelphia Eagles Fans Say Pope Is Their Only Hope Early in NFL Season
At Mass Saturday morning, the pope urged more involvement in the church from women and ordinary Catholics.
The future of the church, he said, "means valuing the immense contribution in which women, lay and religious, have made and continue to make to the life of our communities."
While the pope described nuns as "women of strength" during his trip to New York City, he has rejected the idea of ordaining women as priests.
FIRST PUBLISHED SEP 26 2015, 4:39 PM ET