Pope Francis used the first papal visit to Congress to warn against a range of issues, including income inequality and climate change, but he did not directly address abortion two days after Democrats blocked a late-term ban in the U.S. Senate.
The pope’s remarks came as part of a six-day swing through the United States that will end at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia this weekend. VIPs, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and 2016 presidential candidates Ben Carson and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, were on hand to hear the pope’s speech before he stepped onto the Speaker’s Balcony to greet thousands gathered on the Capitol’s West Lawn.
Pope Francis received a congressional welcome that rivaled that given to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in March, but the similarities ended there. In contrast to Netanyahu’s furor, Francis delivered a quieter, gentler message encouraging lawmakers to work together “in pursuit of the common good.”
“Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity,” he said.
The pope couched his almost hour-long speech in the context of four historical Americans: Abraham Lincoln as a guardian of liberty, Martin Luther King Jr. as a Civil Rights leader, Dorothy Day as the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, and monk Thomas Merton for promoting peace.
Some pro-life advocates and lawmakers had hoped the pope would deliver a strong pro-life message, since the Senate failed to pass a 20-week abortion ban just days before and Congress faces a potential government shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding. He urged lawmakers to “protect and defend human life at every stage of its development,” but he spent more time asking them to abolish the death penalty, fight income inequality, and address climate change.
“I call for a courageous and responsible effort to redirect our steps and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity,” he said. “I am convinced that we can make a difference.”
Francis cited the need to promote international religious freedom and called on Congress to confront the globe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.
“Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated,” he said, noting both refugees and North American immigrants come to the U.S. looking for safety and opportunity. “We need to avoid a common temptation these days: to discard whatever proves troublesome.”
Many lawmakers leaned forward, straining to hear during much of the speech. Often applause was tentative, but it was mostly bipartisan. The biggest applause came in response to his statements on the golden rule and Martin Luther King Jr.: “I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of dreams.”
In closing, the pope gave a forceful defense of the family, which he noted is threatened from within and without: “How essential the family has been to the building of this country, and how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement.”
Courtesy: WORLD News Service
Photo: Pope Francis is greeted by Vice President Joe Biden as the pope arrives in the House chamber prior to addressing a joint meeting of Congress on Sept. 24, 2015.
Photo courtesy: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Publication date: September 28, 2015