In a historic address, the first ever before a U.S. Congress, by a Pope, Francis I gave a speech that addressed a wider variety of issues, both dear to him, and to the Roman Catholic church, of whom he is its spiritual leader.
In his opening remarks he not only hit a strong theme of American patriotism, “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” but quickly segued into his origins as an immigrant like many of those who have come to the world’s wealthiest country, by citing his family’s move from Italy to Argentina where he was born, when he said, “We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners,” and. “I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants.”
With a furious debate on the part of both lawmakers, and presidential candidates, immigration has been at the forefront of a long delayed conversation, but yet has its roots deep in the nation’s history, going back to the Nativist movement, that has been also known as the “Know Nothings.” These remarks, will undoubtedly support a message that the American Catholic Church has emphasized, but one that Catholics can bring to the forefront of the discussion with the Pope’s endorsement.
In an expected, and inclusive vein, the pontiff focused on the gospel message of care for the poor and underprivileged. “I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty,” he said. “They too need to be given hope.” He added that “it goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth.” While “business is a noble vocation,” he said, it must be “an essential part of its service to the common good.”
Francis reserved his starkest remarks for the arms race, as he condemned it by saying: “Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society?” he asked. “Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money – money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.”
In an entry into American politics he looked at the challenges that there be an equal “pool of resources,” and recognition of the challenges of a modern society, such as that in the United States, using the need for the common good, uppermost, but to “break out of its cycle of polarization and paralysis to finally use its power to heal the “open wounds” of a planet torn by hatred, greed, poverty and pollution.”noted The New York Times.
With the intense partisanship of Congress, his remarks reminded those present that their responsibility was not to themselves, but to the nation, at large. While the effects of the pontiff’s remarks, remain to be seen, this moral stamp was in keeping with that of his office.
Recognising the heroes of American history, he emphasized that “A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to dream of full rights for all their brothers and sisters as Martin Luther King sought to do, when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.”
Continuing the theme of his encyclical on the environment, the Pope also said, “We need a conversation that includes everyone, because the environmental challenge,” is one that involves the entire world. He noted that “In ‘Laudato Si’ 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. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress –have an important role to play.”
The Pope was not shy, although perhaps more cautious in his delivery, about the changing role of the family, and those changes that many might see as injurious to it, namely the recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, allowing same-sex marriage. “I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened perhaps as never before, from within and without, and ”fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.”
The Catholic church is unequivocal in its condemnation about abortion, but Francis skirted the issue, and said only, that life should be defended of life at “every stage of development.”
In a nod to simplicity Francis gave credence to an oft quoted Biblical and familial creed: “Let us remember the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. … Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves.”
Francis’ speech, the longest he has given since he has been on American soil, will be the cause for much conversation at dinner tables, and coffeehouses for weeks to come, but many are hoping that those he addressed today will, not only listen, but hear truly hear these words.