MCALLEN, Texas - At Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, members
of the community, most of them volunteers at a respite center
for immigrants at Sacred Heart parish hall, were invited to a
special event by ABC News, but were not informed in advance
of just how special that event would be.
People started arriving at the church before 7 a.m., local
time, Aug. 31. The event began at 9 a.m.
In Rome, where the local time was 4 p.m., appearing by
satellite and speaking to the people in McAllen was Pope
Francis by means of a "virtual town hall" arranged by ABC
"We are thrilled to have been a part of this morning's
conversation with Pope Francis via satellite," said Brenda
Nettles Riojas, communications director for the Diocese of
The audience was moderated from inside the Vatican by "World
News Tonight" anchor David Muir. In addition to the group at
Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, the pope also conversed with
homeless families in Los Angeles and with students at the
Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago, which serves
The event will air in a one-hour special edition of "20/20"
on Friday, Sept. 4, 10-11 p.m. EDT. The event was staged in
anticipation of Pope Francis' Sept. 22-27 trip to the United
States. Since the pope is visiting only Washington, New York
and Philadelphia, the virtual town hall gave him a chance to
speak with people in places he wouldn't be able to visit.
In McAllen, the event was hosted by Mariana Atencio of
Univision and ABC News. Pope Francis spoke with a 19-year-old
man, who shared his experience as an immigrant. He told the
pope that he is grateful to work and attend college so that
he can help support his parents and siblings because of the
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
A woman from El Salvador, who was wearing an electronic
monitoring device around her ankle, asked for a blessing for
her toddler son, who has problems with his vision.
A young girl from El Salvador, who traveled 26 days with her
mother to the United States, cried when remembering how she
and her mother were subjected to threatening moments during
the journey. She drew a large picture for Pope Francis that
said, "Te amo Papa" ("I love you Father") and showed it to
him on camera.
Sister Norma Pimentel of the Missionaries of Jesus, executive
director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, who
started the respite center, was introduced to the pope from
her seat in the church.
The pope asked her to approach the microphone so he could
meet her. Pope Francis thanked her and the respite volunteers
for their hard work.
"The pope loves me very much," Sister Norma said. "Those
words will stay with me forever. What a wonderful experience
and affirmation for all that we do."
Volunteers of many faiths have assisted their brothers and
sisters in need at the respite center. More than 23,000
immigrants have received essentials such as food, water,
clothing, medical care and a place to rest.
Pope Francis also acknowledged all the religious sisters
serving in the United States.
As Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville noted before the
program started, the people of the Rio Grande Valley have
responded most generously, and generosity is contagious.
"The open heartedness of this community is a sign of the
grace of God," Bishop Flores said. "Each person who has come
to help does so with much care. Each one doing what they can
"The immigrants who come to the respite center have been
offered a genuine welcome."