BALTIMORE — Pope Francis on Tuesday sent a message to U.S. church leaders praising the contributions of Latino Catholics, a week after Donald Trump was elected president and on the day the bishops put a Mexican-born archbishop in line to be their leader.

Francis noted that the U.S. church has welcomed immigrants throughout its history and said the “rich variety of their languages and cultural traditions” had enriched the church and the country. He urged the U.S. church to “go out from its comfort zone” and heal a society facing “increasing polarization.”

“Our great challenge is to create a culture of encounter which encourages individuals and groups to share the richness of their traditions and experience; to break down walls and to build bridges,” he said.

During the campaign, Trump called Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals and pledged to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The pope sent the message to the annual Baltimore meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Earlier Tuesday, the bishops elected Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez as the conference’s first Latino vice president. The vice president customarily becomes president after a three-year term, putting Gomez in line to be the first Latino head of the conference.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Texas who was elected president for the next three years, said, “we certainly respect the government. … But we also have the shepherd’s heart. If there’s somebody hungry, we’re going to feed them. … If there’s somebody who is a stranger, we want to make them welcome.”