When Martin Luther King, Jr. uttered his famous line “I have a dream”, he was thinking of you. Those were the words of Pope Francis this afternoon during a brief but moving encounter with elementary students at Our Lady, Queen of the Angels School in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood.
“His dream was that many children, many people would have equal opportunities,” the Pope reflected, speaking in Spanish. “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.”
Pope Francis met Sept. 25 with some two dozen elementary students from four different Catholic schools. The majority of the students hailed from Our Lady, Queen of the Angels School, where 92 percent of the students are minorities and two-thirds are on scholarship.
During his visit to the school, he also met with migrants and refugees, employees of the local branch of Catholic Charities, and New York legislators.
Outside the school, additional students were there to greet the Pope, chanting, “Holy Father, we love you.”
Once Pope Francis, accompanied by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, was in a classroom at the school, he was greeted by their singing the Prayer of St. Francis, alternating between English and Spanish. The children and teachers then got to introduce themselves to Francis, and to show him projects from their classes.
The Pope asked the schoolchildren to consider the dreams of their parents, most of whom are immigrants.
“I know that one of the dreams of your parents and teachers is that you can grow up and be happy,” he said. “It is always good to see children smiling. Here I see you smiling. Keep smiling and help bring joy to everyone you meet.”
“It’s not always easy,” he added. “Everyone has problems, difficult situations, sickness. But don’t stop dreaming, so that you can live with happiness.”
“Wherever there are dreams, there is joy, Jesus is always present. Because Jesus is joy, and he wants us to feel that joy every day of our lives.”
The Pope added that in contrast to Jesus, “the devil is always sowing unhapiness; he doesn’t want us happy, or dreaming.”
He then urged the children to fight for their right to dream and praised Our Lady, Queen of the Angels School for supporting the dreams of the children.
“How nice it is to feel that school is a second home,” he said. “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.”
Pope Francis ended his comments by giving the kids a homework assignment.
“It is just a little request, but a very important one,” he said.
“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 that many other people can share the joy like yours.”
He concluded by reminding the children that they are assisted in all their problems, because “Jesus never abandons us.”
A couple of the immigrants then sang for the Pope, and he led the group in praying the Our Father.
Finally, he said, “Rezen por mi. [Pray for me.] Don’t forget the homework!”