HOUSTON (September 1, 2015) — Immigrants in three U.S. cities experienced a first-ever virtual audience with Pope Francis, including Ricardo Ortiz, 19, of Houston, who was encouraged by the pontiff to keep courage, stay strong and remember the example of Christ.
In advance of the pope’s visit to the U.S. in September, ABC News produced the live videoconference, hosting it from The Vatican. The pope held audiences in Los Angeles, Chicago, and in Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, Texas, which last year had become a refugee center for thousands of children who had crossed the U.S. border unaccompanied by adults.
No one in any of the venues had been told that the pope would be receiving them virtually. “When I walked in, they told me the pope would be speaking from Rome,” Ricardo said. “I didn’t get that he would be speaking with me.”
Ortiz came to ABC News’ attention via Catholic Charities’ St. Frances Cabrini Center for Immigrant Legal Assistance. Cabrini Center helped Ortiz obtain the immigration documents he needed to be able to work and seek higher education through a program that assists young people applying for administrative relief, including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Application Assistance Services.
“When ABC asked for someone willing to tell their story, we knew Ricardo was representative of the thousands of immigrant clients we see in our programs,” said Cynthia Colbert, CEO of Catholic Charities. “He exemplifies their hopes and dreams, their strong work ethic and their deep desire to contribute to America’s economy and society – and the legal limbo that impedes their success.”
“Catholic Charities worked really hard on my behalf,” Ricardo said. “I have nothing but good things to say about the people I’ve met there.”
Ricardo, the oldest of four children, was born in Mexico. When he was four, his parents brought the family to the U.S. But at 16, he became the family’s breadwinner after his father was injured. Ricardo eventually finished high school and was awarded a soccer scholarship. It was rescinded when it was learned he was undocumented.
The pope acknowledged how difficult it must have been for Ricardo to have “the responsibility of a father” at such a young age.
“On top of getting to meet the pope, I got to have a conversation with him, tell him my story, and get personal advice from the Holy Father,” Ricardo said.
He shares some of that advice with immigrants everywhere: “They need to be strong. They need to be courageous. They need to stand up for each other and not be scared about what’s going to come up next because it’s their strength that’s going to make this country great again.”
Ricardo is now in Houston Community College, studying finance. He hopes to eventually transfer to the Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston.
ABC News produced the event for its Friday, September 4, news show, 20 /20. The segment is on its news site: tinyurl.com/ricardo-popefrancis.