Pope Francis, describing himself a son of immigrants once again, made history Thursday morning when he gave the first papal address in history to the U.S. Congress. Pope Francis implored our nation’s leaders to accept immigrants as their own children, and to put aside political differences and embrace those who travel here in search of a better life.
The 78-year-old Pope’s speech gently but firmly urged Americans to move beyond the partisan paralysis that for years has stopped Congress from making progress on immigration reform. Francis pointed to examples such as Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. in urging Congress to cast off the modern trend of political polarization, according to The Washington Post on Thursday, Sept. 24.
Pope Francis praised the United States for being a land which has inspired so many people to dream. He went on to plead for the abolition of the death penalty, the end of arms trading, and warned of the dangers of religious extremism throughout the globe.
The Pope also used his speech to call for action on climate change. Francis said it is an issue that the United States has a special obligation to lead.
Perhaps due to criticisms that he is anti-captialism, Pope Francis peppered his call to action with a statement of support for the role that business plays in society, calling it a noble vocation which produces wealth and improves the world. “The creation and distribution of wealth is a vital element in the fight against poverty and climate change,” he said.
Francis pointed out that our world is seeing a refugee crisis of a level not seen since the end of the second World War. During his 45-minute speech he urged that leaders not be affected by their numbers, but rather see them as persons. The Pope insisted we need to respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal, according to USA Today.
Prior to his speech, Pope Francis met briefly with House Speaker John Boehner, a devout Roman Catholic who had previously invited three popes over two decades to speak to Congress. Such an event would have been politically impossible through much of American history, since Catholics, especially waves of immigrants from Italy, Ireland and Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, suffered widespread discrimination.
Later Thursday, Pope Francis is scheduled to depart Washington. He’ll fly to New York, where he will end his day with evening services at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. His U.S. journey continues through Sunday, ending in Philadelphia.