Pope Francis made history Thursday September 24, 2015, with his address to a joint session of Congress — the first ever by a sitting pope. His remarks touched on America’s democratic tradition, religious tolerance, immigration and economic disparity.
Pope Francis asserted:
Each son or daughter of a given country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.
The pope then compared the “work” of Congress to the work of the prophet Moses:
Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation,” he explained. “On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.
After praising American values and historic American figures such as Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Merton, the pope decried the trend of religious radicalism that has caused many innocent lives to be brutally lost. Explaining that “no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism,” he stressed the importance of combating religious violence:
This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind,” Pope Francis declared. “A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms.
At a time when their is seemingly great tension towards certain religious views in America, Pope Francis argued that the “voice of faith” needs to continue to be heard in order to allow faith-based works to continue strengthening the country:
In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society,” the pontiff stated. “Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.
As the son of immigrants, Pope Francis touched on how America is a land founded by immigrants and urged the United States, which takes in about 70,000 refugees every year, to continue opening its doors to the world’s refugees and even immigrants coming from Latin America.
Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions,” he said. “On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation; to respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’
Pope Francis then discussed the importance of serving the less impoverished members of society:
I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable.