NEW YORK (AP) – Vianel Garcia told family members they could sleep on the floor of her East Harlem hair salon when Pope Francis visits the city in September so they can try to catch a glimpse of him when he makes a stop at a school across from her business.
"My clients also want to come, but we don't have enough space," said the 35-year-old Dominican stylist who said she will hang a big sign on the front door welcoming the pope on Sept. 25.
Enthusiasm is growing among Hispanic Catholics in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. over Argentine-born Pope Francis first U.S. visit. Many are inquiring about tickets to see him during his stops in the three cities, with many planning to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, where the pope with speak.
Some are organizing workshops at their churches about the pope's teachings and how they apply to immigrants.
"There is this simplicity he has to tell people things like they really are," said Alma Reyes, a 53-year-old Mexican immigrant who cleans homes and is planning to travel from New York to Philadelphia to hear the pope speak. "He speaks from the heart. He is spontaneous."
In her Queens church, Saint Leo, Reyes is helping organize a workshop to talk about the pope's teachings. The talks will be based on Pope Francis' exhortation: "The Joy of the Gospel."
"Many here are undocumented, and this encyclical letter talks about all that. The racism, the difficulties ... these are issues that affect the Hispanic community," Reyes said.
Pope Francis' charisma and messages resonate among Latin American immigrants. The Pope has often condemned the indifference over illegal immigration and has asked governments to be more involved in helping immigrants.
According to census data, 55 million Hispanics live in the U.S., making it the nation's largest minority group. The number of immigrants living illegally in the country is about 11 million people, about 78 percent of them Hispanic, according to the Pew Research Institute.
Pope Francis is due to arrive in Washington on Sept. 22 and then travel to New York on Sept. 24 and Philadelphia on Sept. 26. He will visit children at Our Lady Queen of Angels, a Catholic school in the Latino neighborhood of East Harlem. Later, he will meet in the school's gymnasium with immigrants and refugees who have been assisted by Catholics Charities, said the Archdiocese of New York.
"(The Pope) is the son of an immigrant. He understands the problems of immigrants, and knowing that they are waiting now for immigration reform," said Argentinian priest Carlos Mullins, who has lived in New York for about 40 years.
Latinos from across the country are expected to travel to see the pope at one of his stops.
"Many in the community feel admiration, not only because he is from Latin America, but because of his focus on poverty, on the least fortunate," said Abel Nunez, executive director of the Central American Resource Center in Washington. "The community is proud of him."
In New York, it is up to parishes to decide how to distribute tickets to see the Pope. In Philadelphia and Washington, ticket distribution to some events is still being discussed.
In the Latino neighborhood of Corona in Queens, Father Raymond Roden, from Our Lady of Sorrows Church, said the parish will hold monthly talks about the pope's teachings.
"I see respectful enthusiasm," Roden said of his Hispanic parishioners. "It's not like a movie star is coming. They feel like a loving grandfather is coming."