By Kaitlyn Barron and Hannah Bradvica
Notre Dame High School Sophomores
On September 24, His Holiness Pope Francis of the Holy See addressed a Joint Session of Congress at the request of the Speaker of the House, John Boehner. This historic event makes Pope Francis the first Pope in history to address Congress.
In his inspiring address to Congress, Pope Francis tackled a number of issues not only affecting the American people but the world as a whole. Pope Francis addressed Congress members and their responsibilities as leaders of the nation.
He said, “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 Holy Father told Congress that as leaders they had the responsibility to work for justice, security, and peace for all citizens of the country. As he addressed Congress, he emphasized the need to create a fair and just society where people of all backgrounds have the ability to reach their goals and have success.
In an effort to connect with the American people, he brought up many of the influential figures of American history. Pope Francis highlighted four great people and their contribution to American government and society. He discussed the goals of Abraham Lincoln to secure liberties for all people. Much like Martin Luther King, the great civil-rights activist, who worked for civil liberties by participating in peaceful marches and giving moving speeches.
Dorothy’s Day’s devotion to God and the church led her to found the Catholic Worker Movement and spread the message of aiding the oppressed and working for social activism. And finally, Pope Francis mentioned Thomas Merton, the Cistercian monk, who worked for peace and respect between all people. By discussing these four notable Americans, he appealed to the American experience.
The political leaders of our nation were called to act upon a number of both liberal and conservative topics. Many of these topics have been a source of conflict and debate both in America and the Church. Pope Francis addressed the ongoing immigration and refugee crisis. He spoke about how we must not repeat the errors of the past in regards to the immigration problems America faced in its inception. Instead, he asks people to accept strangers of all backgrounds no matter their political and religious beliefs and affiliation. He calls upon the Golden Rule in which people treat others as they would want to be treated, by giving the acceptance and humanity all people deserve.
Although he did not directly address gay marriage and abortion, Pope Francis made remarks about the preservation of the fundamental family and the need to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development. He then called for the abolition of the death penalty worldwide as he said,” I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred.”
The Holy Father stressed the need to change the culture we live in which negatively influences our young and impressionable. Our children are the future, and their problems are everyone’s problems and cannot be ignored. The preservation of our future should be considered top priority.
This was the first time Pope Francis directly addressed and visited the United States. He attacked capitalism and highlighted the fight against poverty and hunger, which he believed was caused by poor distribution of wealth. Pope Francis called us to take responsibility for the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. He said, “now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a culture of care and integrated approach to combatting poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.”
Pope Francis’ address to Congress was an important first for both the Church and the United States. The Holy Father discussed hope, faith, and helping the less fortunate. In a sense, his speech was meant to awaken-not only the United States but the world to humanity. Throughout his address, he highlighted the cultural heritage and the spirit of the American people, which he desires to continue to develop. He stressed the need for our leaders to take action against humanity’s troubles. As much as Catholics may hope for these changes, they may be difficult to integrate into the government and society. Catholics around the world can only pray that these changes may one day become reality in the United States of America.