WASHINGTON -- After six decades of working with immigrants in Queens and on Long Island, Sister Margaret Rose Smyth next week will get to see in person one of their best-known champions -- Pope Francis -- as he makes his historic speech to Congress.
Sister Margaret, 75, will be among the lucky few to sit in the House gallery, with a ticket provided by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), to watch the first pope to address a joint meeting of the House and Senate on Thursday morning.
"I'm overwhelmed by this whole thing," Sister Margaret said in a telephone interview from her office in Riverhead, where she runs the North Fork Spanish Apostolate to offer services to Spanish-speaking immigrants.
Pope Francis has been an outspoken advocate for immigrants and refugees, urging European churches to take in at least one of the families fleeing from war-torn Syria.
Sister Margaret said she expects the pope's speech "to touch on what is happening around Syria" as well as what's going on with immigrants in other countries, including the United States.
"He is calling us into accountability" for "how we live in this world," she said. "He will be speaking to Congress in particular, but what he says reverberates for all of us."
Sister Margaret said she spent her early career with the Roman Catholic Church in Queens as a Spanish teacher and principal and came to Long Island in 1997 to serve the growing Latino population.
This time, Sister Margaret will have no trouble seeing the pope, unlike years ago when she and parishioners passed around binoculars to get a glimpse of Pope John Paul II at Madison Square Garden.
"It was like seeing him long-distance," she said.
Gillibrand said in a statement that she is "humbled" to "celebrate" Sister Margaret's service with the ticket.
"Sister Margaret's commitment to her faith and community are inspiring," Gillibrand said. "She's a tireless advocate for her neighbors, and offers help in ways big and small -- making a true impact across the East End."