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Pope Francis to Congress: ‘Stop fighting, start working!’

Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress in the House of Representatives Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington on September 24, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jim Bourg *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-CONGRESS, originally transmitted on Sept. 24, 2015 and with RNS-POPE-ABUSE, originally transmitted on Sept. 30, 2015.
Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress in the House of Representatives Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington on September 24, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jim Bourg *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-CONGRESS, originally transmitted on Sept. 24, 2015.

Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of Congress in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 24, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jim Bourg
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-CONGRESS, originally transmitted on Sept. 24, 2015.

WASHINGTON (RNS) In his historic speech to a joint meeting of Congress on Thursday (Sept. 24), Pope Francis seemed to heed warnings to tame his often fiery rhetoric on topics such as capitalism and climate change. But his State of the Union-style address — the first ever to the House and Senate by a Roman pontiff — was in the end cold comfort to conservatives who had hoped their sharp criticisms might influence his agenda.

Instead, in a nearly hourlong speech, Francis carefully laid out a vision of political cooperation for the common good — one that highlighted economic injustice as a chief threat to family life, that stressed the moral imperative to care for the environment, that denounced profits “drenched in blood” from the arms industry and that forcefully argued for America to welcome, not reject, immigrants.

Religion News Service graphic by T.J. Thomson

Religion News Service graphic by T.J. Thomson

Click on the logo above to see additional stories about Pope Francis’ visit in the U.S.

“We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners,” Francis told a packed House chamber, reminding those present that most of them are descendants of immigrants and that he, too, is the son of Italian immigrants who fled Benito Mussolini’s fascism to settle in Argentina.

“(W)hen the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past,” Francis said, referring to anti-immigrant episodes in America’s history. “We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our ‘neighbors’ and everything around us.”

“Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility,” the pope said, speaking at the podium where the president delivers his annual State of the Union speech.

Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington on September 24, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-CONGRESS, originally transmitted on Sept. 24, 2015.

Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of Congress in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 24, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-CONGRESS, originally transmitted on Sept. 24, 2015.

Along the way, Francis also called for the abolition of the death penalty and signaled support for the Obama administration’s diplomatic breakthroughs with Iran and Cuba — the latter a development that the pope helped broker, and both of which have been strongly criticized by Republicans.

And despite expectations, and hopes among some that Francis might sharpen his talk with a clear denunciation of abortion and euthanasia — two issues in the news thanks to the controversy over secret Planned Parenthood videos and a right-to-die bill in California — the pope made only a passing reference to those issues.

“The golden rule,” he said, “also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.” He also seemed to nod at the issue of gay marriage, lamenting that “fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family.”


READ: Girl gives letter to pope, fears her parents will be deported


Yet that language paled compared with his denunciation, for example, of gun violence and the weapons industry:

“Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society?” Francis 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.”

Pope Francis is greeted by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden as the pope arrives in the House Chamber prior to addressing a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on September 24, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-CONGRESS, originally transmitted on Sept. 24, 2015.

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 of REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-CONGRESS, originally transmitted on Sept. 24, 2015.

Greed was also at the heart of what may have been the pope’s chief challenge to the lawmakers: namely, to reject self-interest and work for the common good.

“If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance,” said Francis said, who has previously lamented the way he says money corrupts politics.

In a similar vein, and in the meatiest passage in his speech, Francis blasted fundamentalism and polarization in religious communities, but also in economics and politics — a theme he has often addressed:

“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. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners.”

“The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.

“A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism,” the pope concluded. “A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces.”

People pack the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol to see Pope Francis appear on the Speaker's balcony before his speech to the U.S. Congress in Washington, on September 24 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Carlos Barria *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-CONGRESS, originally transmitted on Sept. 24, 2015.

People pack the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol to see Pope Francis appear on the House speaker’s balcony before his speech to Congress on Sept. 24 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Carlos Barria
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-CONGRESS, originally transmitted on Sept. 24, 2015.

The entire event was an extraordinary piece of political and religious theater: an Argentine pope from the Vatican, flanked over each shoulder by Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic and a Democrat, and by House Speaker John Boehner, a Catholic and a Republican, and facing a Congress that has more Catholic members than ever, but also more who are vocally opposed in many ways to Francis’ teachings.


READ: Pope Francis canonizes, and defends, controversial Spanish missionary Junipero Serra


Indeed, an Arizona congressman, Rep. Paul Gosar, a Jesuit-educated Catholic, announced that he would boycott the talk — which has been the hardest ticket in town to snag — because he was upset with the pope’s high-profile effort to combat global warming.

If other Republicans were eager to be in the audience, and perhaps get in a photo with the pope, many of them have also taken public issue with Francis over his teachings on economic injustice and immigration, for example. Meanwhile, liberals and Democrats have eagerly embraced the pope’s social justice priorities and have downplayed Francis’ opposition to abortion, for instance.

Predicting what the pope would say, and how it would play politically, made for one of the hottest parlor games inside the Beltway in the weeks leading up to the speech.

Throughout his address on Thursday, Francis was repeatedly interrupted by applause as he hit his various points, sometimes more by Democrats, sometimes more by Republicans, sometimes by members of both parties with a standing ovation.

But what they will take away from it, as a presidential campaign gets underway and ramps up the temptation to engage in political maneuvering and bickering, remains to be seen.

YS/MG END GIBSON

Pope’s Address to Congress

About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.

26 Comments

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  • POPE: “NO GOD NEEDED”
    “..we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners.”

    Gosh. Where, oh, WHERE might the Pope have heard such vile reductionism?
    Um…from religion, perhaps !?

    “Believe or be condemned” – JESUS (Mark 16:16)
    “do not associate with anyone…who is guilty” – (1 Corinthians 5:11)
    “…go and tell him his fault.” – JESUS (Matthew 18:15)
    “Don’t throw your pearls to unholy pigs!” – JESUS (Matthew 7:6)

    This Pope abandons the nonsense of Jesus, Yahweh and Paul’s awful letters. Instead, he sells a warmed-over Christianity of humanism no different from Atheist Dalai Lama. Go ahead! Compare the speeches!

    Humanism is overcoming Christianity – Francis knows it. Most of the Bible must be abandoned for a Pope to give this speech. Democrats have been giving the same speech for decades – practical, secular humanism.

  • That was a very good speech. He pulled back the curtain, and let everyone see how their ways have departed from the ways of God Almighty. Working together means both democrats and republicans need to stop being partisan, and be more politic oriented on things for the common good of society.

  • Not to worry…God’s kingdom or heavenly government (Daniel 2:44) will soon come and work on behalf of all meek mankind on earth without any division or uncooperation (Isaiah 11:1-9).

  • That’s what the 12 Apostles thought would happen in their lifetimes, but it didn’t. The rash on “end times” theologies which did not appear until the 19th Century CE have most often been used as a means of power and control over others. We have humans who describe an afterlife as containing the aspects you describe but that seems impossible where humans are concerned. Better to pray for the dead and fight for the living.

  • During the Reagan and Bush I regimes, compromise was possible, because then the Republicans were willing to be reasonable. That changed during the Clinton I regime. Then, the Republicans came to regard the White House as an entitlement of theirs, and chose to go as far as they could, even offering a bogus impeachment which the Senate wisely rejected. They are even worse now. The right-wing echo chamber on hate radio regards Obama as even less deserving of their respect than Clinton. Sanity will eventually prevail, as it did today in the vote to continue the government and avoid a shutdown, but it’s only temporary. I’m afraid this will get worse before it gets better. Compromise is not possible when one side is being petulant.

  • George, really? It goes both ways. For example, right now the president is going to veto any spending bill that does not fund Planned Parenthood. And the Dems in Congress are ready to block it, as well. And after what PP’s been up to?? How is that for the common good? That’s what is known as being partisan. And the list goes on.

  • Yes, the Jews in Jesus’ time were so fixated on an earthly kingdom, that they could never quite get it through their minds that the kingdom on earth, is merely the church of a pilgrim people on their way to eternal life in heaven. And before Pentecost, when they were enlightened, the apostles continued to miss the point: they “asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samar′ia and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:6). Yes there will likely be a time of peace and splendor for the Church, but first She must go through her own agony and crucifixion. It will probably get much worse before getting better.

  • “For example, right now the president is going to veto any spending bill that does not fund Planned Parenthood.”

    Because the request is unreasonable and based on deliberate defamation of PP. Anti-abortion pundits are not going to give rational or reasonable assessments of the organization. They are also prone to lying about them in order to push their agenda. The common good is not served by a hysterical witch hunt with the goal of attacking public health and rights of others.

  • There is nothing sillier than a leader “for life” lecturing a democratic legislature on how to conduct their business.

  • Greg1, the god fraud that you and your partner-in-crime Fran keep trying to sell here has been predicting the end of times as about to happen for centuries and has never gotten it right. No reason to think you will this time.

    Also on the time front, It’s also worth asking why such a claimed benevolent, wonderfully kind, “god” has to put us through thousands of years of anxious waiting before “saving” us from a flawed life that he supposedly created. The Christian beliefs are just plain ridiculous.

    Good day, and here’s to a less superstitious future for us all.

    Ask the questions. Break the chains.
    Join the movement. Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.
    http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

  • That might sound pretty to you, but it’s not correct in general. Actually, if the fighting doesn’t kill, it often makes both parties stronger afterward.

    Try some physical training. Maybe you’ll get it.

  • @Fran, I try to share spiritual truths from God’s word on here too but we speak a foreign language which 99% of mankind cannot understand. The majority would rather make up their own “truth” or just blast God with blatant LIES and blasphemies. They twist the scriptures to their own destruction and will not use their own mind to REASON on the facts. Just keep praying for the good hearted people to have their eyes opened and their ears unstopped. Continue on in your ministry and I will also do the same. As for the Pope and his speeches, I’m wondering how all of this will result in the cry of “peace and security”. Agape, sister.

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