WASHINGTON -- Pope Francis began his remarks to Americans on Wednesday by applauding the nation's immigrant history -- a message that, although not political itself, could foreshadow more to come from a man who has long urged compassion for refugees and unauthorized immigrants.
"I am deeply grateful for your welcome in the name of all Americans," the pope said at the White House after being welcomed by President Barack Obama. "As the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families."
"I look forward to these days of encounter and dialogue, in which I hope to listen to, and share, many of the hopes and dreams of the American people," he continued.
Pope Francis, who was born in Argentina, will speak before Congress on Thursday, and supporters of immigration reform are hopeful that the he will bring attention back to the issue. In the past, he said unaccompanied minors apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border should "be welcomed and protected," and promised a girl whose father was set to be deported that he would talk to Obama on her behalf.
Earlier this month, Pope Francis called on every European parish, sanctuary, monastery and religious community to take in at least one refugee family, a response to crisis levels of Syrians and others fleeing their countries.
He did not explicitly discuss refugees in his remarks on Wednesday, but did urge Americans to look outside the U.S. to help the vulnerable. The U.S. is planning to increase the number of refugees it admits next fiscal year, but the proposal faces opposition from some Republicans, who say this cannot be done without hurting national security.
"I would like all men and women of goodwill in this great nation to support the efforts of the international community to protect the vulnerable in our world and to stimulate integral and inclusive models of development, so that our brothers and sisters everywhere may know the blessings of peace and prosperity, which God wills for all his children," Pope Francis said.
Obama was more explicit in his message about refugees and immigrants.
"You remind us that the Lord’s most powerful message is mercy," Obama said to the pope. "And that means welcoming the stranger with empathy and a truly open heart -- from the refugee who flees war-torn lands to the immigrant who leaves home in search of a better life."