by Jonathan Huang staff writer
On Sept. 24, Pope Francis delivered a speech to Congress, exhorting American lawmakers to unite against income inequality, the victimization of ethnic and religious minorities, the marginalization of the poor and global climate change.
“A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk,” said Francis, who stood glimmering in a white vestment in the packed chamber of the House of Representatives. “Legislative activity is always based on the care of the people — to this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.”
Delivered on his second full day in Washington on a six-day trip to the United States, the Argentine-born pope was the first pontiff to ever address a joint meeting of Congress. Although the discourse was slow and shrouded in heavily accented English, Francis challenged some 500 legislators, one out of every three of whom are Catholic, including Vice President Joseph Biden Jr., House Speaker John Boehner and Secretary of State John Kerry.
Pope Francis’ words emboldened both liberals and conservatives in Congress, as he passionately defended immigration and environmental legislation on one hand, and religious freedom and the traditional family on the other.
The pontiff’s visit to the U.S. rides on the crest of a tumultuous year of implementing new political and pastoral agendas. The successful endeavor to restore a half-century of hostility between Cuba and the U.S. materialized after the Pope offered Obama’s and Castro’s teams a private, five-hour diplomatic negotiation at the Vatican last fall.
Earlier this summer, Francis officially recognized Palestinian statehood and urged for Catholic dioceses in Europe to shelter Syrian refugees. The following month, the Pope published the second encyclical of his 30-month reign, titled “Laudato si’,” a 180-page papal letter regarding the environment, which according to Time magazine includes “everything from individuals’ air-conditioning use to how environmental degradation is causing poverty and migration.”
In July, on the heels of fierce negotiations led by the P5+1 world powers in Vienna, Francis praised the nuclear accord with Iran, which in recent weeks bolstered Congress’ approval of the controversial agreement. Kerry “early on saw Francis as a potentially activist foreign policy Pope,” said one senior State official.
Although the pontiff’s global activism may baffle American congressmen, Francis insists that his views are grounded in Catholic social teaching, which offers a corrective lens on all world systems, whether liberal, conservative, communist or capitalist.
John L. Allen, Jr., the senior Vatican analyst for CNN, said, “In truth, Francis is neither a political conservative nor a liberal … Francis appears to see himself as a Latin American pastor who takes church teaching and tradition for granted and tries to bring it to bear on situations of suffering he’s seen with his own eyes. It remains to be seen how Americans, accustomed to thinking in terms of political alignment, winners and losers, will respond to his agenda.”
To read the full text of Pope Francis’ speech to Congress, visit: http://www.scribd.com/doc/282588617/Pope-s-speech-before-Joint-Meeting-of-Congress
To follow Pope Francis’ U.S. travel schedule, visit: http://www.popefrancisvisit.com/official-final-schedule-of-pope-francis-u-s-visit-2015/