WASHINGTON—For the first time in United States history, a pope addressed the congressional body of the country as a whole. On Thursday afternoon, before taking off to New York, Pope Francis spoke with Congress and the American people on a number of issues close to his heart. Francis spoke on many hot-button topic issues in […]
WASHINGTON—For the first time in United States history, a pope addressed the congressional body of the country as a whole. On Thursday afternoon, before taking off to New York, Pope Francis spoke with Congress and the American people on a number of issues close to his heart.
Francis spoke on many hot-button topic issues in the United States including immigration, family, marriage equality, religious equality and caring for the Earth. But the pope kept his main message simple: Dialogues between world leaders and the people they serve must be started in order to move society forward as a whole.
“Each son and daughter of a country has a mission—a personal and social responsibility. Your one responsibility as Congress is to enable this country by legislative activity to grow as a nation. You are the face of this people,” Francis said.
Throughout Francis’ speech, Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, had tears in his eyes. Emotions ran high throughout the speech from all accounts. Cheers, protests in the background and tears running down the faces of admirers thankful to see Francis.
Francis’ speech touched the thousands of people who came to see him as he touched upon political issues from a religious standpoint.
One woman said this is what makes Francis a special pope. Joan Souza, a woman from Rhode Island, said while Congress tries to separate church and state, Francis looks at them together and builds ideas off of his viewpoint.
“He really is the people’s pope,” Souza said. “Congress can learn a thing or two from what he said. He’s very inclusive and is bringing people back to Catholicism. He teaches love, and that’s all that matters.”
Francis said Congress must use their legislative power to reach and care for people in situations of “great vulnerability.” Legislation is the basis for that care, he said, and it is their duty as elected officials to tend for that.
He compared Congress’ role to that of Moses in the Bible. Congress has to keep alive the people’s “sense of unity,” Francis said, by using legislation.
“The figure of Moses leads us directly to God,” Francis said. “That’s the transcending dignity of the human being…You are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness of humans fashioned by God.”
People generate solidarity from their actions, Francis said. Many regular people are tired, but remain active to pursue their future goals. These are the people Congress must have a dialogue with as they serve them.
As Congress, and everyone else, moves forward in life, Francis said, they must “remember the Golden Rule.”
“Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion that we want to be treated with. Let us help others grow as we would like to ourselves,” Francis said. “If we want security, let us give security. If we want life, let us give life. If we want the opportunity, let us present others with opportunities.”
There are still “social concerns,” in these times, Francis said. Much more still needs to be done to destroy the cycle of poverty throughout the world. Every life is sacred, Francis said, even those that are unborn.
Francis also called for the global abolishment of the death penalty. Every human is endowed with life, he said, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.
“Punishment must never split the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation,” he said.
He talked about how important family is to this society, no matter who is in the family. American culture is built off of a strong familial foundation, he said, and it needs to be further strengthened for the future.
Overall, he said, these dialogues on different political subjects between Congress and the people are going to be what helps build bridges. His duty is to build bridges, he said, and help men and women everywhere do the same.
“New opportunities open up for all when dialogue is created,” Francis said. “A good political leader is one who has the interest of all in mind and one who senses the moment with openness.”
United States Senator Barbara Mikulski, representing Maryland, said Francis delivered a message of inspiration and motivation to Congress as well as the American people.
“His words were edifying. He sought to bring people to their higher and better selves,” Mikulski said. “The Pope challenged us to work together for the good of families, communities and the good of our society through neighbor helping neighbor and habits of the heart. I couldn’t agree more.”
United States Senator Ben Cardin, also representing Maryland, said Francis’ visit has stirred members of the Catholic Church as well non-Catholics. Through his messages of humility, generosity and service, he said, people are united.
“These are universal values with extra meaning when delivered by Pope Francis, who embodies genuine warmth, steadfast conviction and a profound concern for the welfare of humanity,” Cardin said.
Francis’ reverence for Dr. Martin Luther King gave “great hope,” Cardin said. “It was the right message at the right time for our country.”
“His words to the American people, coupled with his Climate Change Encyclical, elevated the importance of the environmental crisis facing our planet, especially on the world’s poorer communities,” Cardin said. “The Pope teaches that faith in God requires us to become better stewards of our planet, that the environment is a common good to be shared equally amongst all of God’s children. His writings serve as a clarion call to action that we must heed.”
United States Congresswoman Donna Edwards, who represents Maryland, said she hopes everyone in the joint session heeds Francis’ address and leaves partisan politics aside to solve problems.
“In the days ahead, Congress must act on several critical issues, which includes avoiding another government shutdown,” Edwards said. “It is my sincere hope that partisan politics can be put aside, and that we can take inspiration from Pope Francis’ words here today to build bridges and work together in the best interest of the American people.”
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, who met with Pope Francis at the headquarters of Catholic Charities, said he is inspired by Francis’ words to Congress’ joint session. He is thankful, he said, for the blessings he received from the Pope on behalf of cancer patients as well.
“He said that service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people,” Hogan said. “Working to make people’s lives better is something I can understand and will continue to put to work in my administration as well as my life.
Lisa McCarthy, a woman who traveled from Illinois for a day, just to see the Pope, said she believes the trip is worth it because anytime someone gets an opportunity to see the Pope they must jump on it. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” McCarthy said.
“He talked mostly about working together to solve our tough issues,” McCarthy said. “I think he sets a good example about access. I think he walks the talk. He is interpreting his view of the Bible and living as an example. Not everybody will agree with that, but I think it’s interesting when both parties suddenly want to separate church and state when, to him, it’s all the same.”