WASHINGTON, D.C.—In his lengthy speech to the U.S. Congress on Sept. 24, Pope Francis appealed to positive American values using four American figures of history while also sounding concerns about everything from the environment to the arms trade to attacks on marriage and family.
The full text of Pope Francis’s speech to Congress can be found on pages 8-9.
Bishop Gerald Barnes watched the Pope’s address from the gallery of the Capitol Building. He was the guest of Congressman Ken Calvert, who represents the 42nd District of California that covers part of the Diocese.
“I was at one with my Church and proud of my country,” Bishop Barnes said reflecting on the experience the day of the speech. “The Pope had a way of helping us look at what is best about our nation and look to that history in addressing some of the issues in our day.”
It was the first time a Roman Pontiff had ever addressed the U.S. Congress. As Pope Francis spoke, he was flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner, both Catholics.
“I am humbled to have witnessed this historic event,” Bishop Barnes reflected. “I could feel the grace of the occasion touching me. I am so grateful to our God.”
Outside the Capitol an estimated 70,000 watched the Pope’s address on giant screens, including several people from the Diocese of San Bernardino. Pope Francis appeared briefly with Rep. Boehner on a balcony of the Capitol building after his speech and shared some brief words of prayer.
In his speech, Pope Francis pointed to four key figures in American history who “were able by hard work and self- sacrifice … to build a better future,” as an illustration of the message he wants to convey: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton.
“Four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God. Four representatives of the American people.”
Bishop Barnes said he loved the Pope’s use of those four historical figures as a vehicle to talk about American values.
“His use of four outstanding examples of Americans was a way of teaching us how we can continue to move ahead with our values and ideals to forward the common good,” Bishop Barnes said.
Auxiliary Bishop Rutilio del Riego, who watched a broadcast of the Pope’s address with a group of 50 other bishops, noted that while Pope Francis urged lawmakers to improve in their collaboration he praised the American process of government.
“The speech was so respectful and affirming of the participation of the people in the affairs of the nation,” Bishop del Riego said.
Pope Francis received perhaps his loudest applause when he underlined the Golden Rule in treating others as you’d want to be treated, explaining that if we want opportunity and security, we must give these to others. “This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves.”
“The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us,” he said.
He pointed to the potent example of the Servant of God Dorothy Day, a Catholic social activist of the 20th century, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement.
Day’s passion for justice and her commitment to the oppressed were rooted in her faith and in the Gospel, he said, noting that while much has already been done to eradicate poverty and hunger, there is still more to be done.
“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 … I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead.”
Pope Francis closed his speech saying that a nation can only 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.”
The Pope expressed his hope that spirit of the American people continue to grow and develop, “so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream. God bless America!”