Repent! Pope Francis lectures America on immigration, abortion, gay marriage and the Syrian refugee crisis in first-ever Capitol Hill address by a sitting pontiff
- Francis opens last day of Washington visit with rebuke of congressional Republicans over lack of compassion for immigrants and refugees
- Papal visit comes amid rising tensions over immigration policies in Congress
- At least one Republican is boycotting speech in protest
- Francis lectures lawmakers about ‘defend[ing] human life at every stage of its development’ and ending the death penalty
- Subtle jab at gay marriage: ‘I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without’
Pope Francis delivered a stinging blow to nativist conservatives bent on keeping illegal immigrants and Middle Eastern refugees out of the United States, saying Thursday in a landmark address to Congress that Americans should show compassion to immigrants of all stripes.
‘When the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past,’ the Roman Catholic pontiff said. ‘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.’
Speaking in English – a language he has learned only recently – Francis also dropped coded messages to conservatives about gay marriage and abortion, and made an impassioned plea for a left-leaning approach to capital punishment in an unprecedented visit to Capitol Hill by a sitting Pope.
‘I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without,’ Francis told a packed House chamber filled with legislators, Supreme Court justices and multiple presidential candidates.
Pope Francis on Thursday morning became the first-ever pontiff to address the US Congress
Francis took the opportunity to lecture lawmakers on a variety of topics ranging from social to environmental issues. Known as a forceful advocate, he did not disappoint
Francis about to be introduced at the door to the House chamber
Francis’s address was heard by an audience of several hundred, including lawmakers, Supreme Court justices and presidential candidates
‘Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family.’
And without mentioning abortion by name – or the name of the embattled domestic Planned Parenthood organization – Francis told lawmakers that the ‘Golden Rule … reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.’
Francis spoke calmly but emphatically, never raising his voice as presidents often do in their State of the Union addresses to joint congressional sessions.
He was greeted by polite applause at certain points – particularly when he began reciting the Golden Rule but was interrupted before he could finish – ‘do unto others as you would have done unto you.’
Also, notably, applause broke out after these words: ‘The Golden Rule reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of development.’
But the applause was never raucous, a sign that members heeded party leaders’ directive not to applaud effusively or ‘glad-handle’ Francis if they got close to him.
Behind him on the raised speaker’s dais, close watchers got a different show during the speech, as both Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner – both well-known emotional men – proved to be almost as watchable.
Throughout the speech, Biden gravely nodded his head and looked down as if in serious thought. But Boehner appeared to tear up at several points, especially later on the Speaker’s Balcony after the address.
Francis’s speech was sprinkled with references to American history, as the pontiff repeatedly referenced and occasionally quoted from President Abraham Lincoln, civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., Catholic Worker Movement founder Dorothy Day and Cistercerian monk Thomas Merton.
The pontiff made clear his firmness on the sanctity of human life, not only the veiled reference to abortion but also his opposition to the death penalty.
Francis and House Speaker John Boehner meet for the first time near the House of Representatives chamber
Biden, a Roman Catholic who co-presided over the Joint Session of Congress as the constitutionally appointed president of the U.S. Senate, caused a stir this week by declaring that he believes life begins at conception.
But it’s Francis’ comments about immigrants that will be most sharply felt as the U.S. deals with the twin crises of Syrian refugees and an immigrant invasion from Mexico and Central America, both of which the Obama administration has taken steps to pacify by loosening America’s borders as a show of compassion.
‘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’ in in North America, he said. ‘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.’
WIthout naming Syria, the Muslim faith, the ISIS terror army, or any of the European nations that have hedged their bets again welcoming the tide of migrants displaced by Islamist armies, Francis noted ‘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.
Francis’s most pointed comments came in his remarks about immigrants and refugees, as he lectured legislators to take a more compassionate approach
The papal address – the first in US history – was carried live on national television networks
Francis’s speech had all the pomp and circumstance of a State of the Union address in the House of Representatives chamber
Pennsylvania Avenue was shut down for Francis’s trip to Capitol Hill
Francis arrived in his customary style – a Fiat500L
Francis quickly became known this week for his penchant for the Fiat, an Italian hatchback that eschews the pomposity of an armored limousine
The pontiff’s crisp arrival at 9:15 a.m. took him through the House side of the massive Capitol complex, for a brief visit with the cry baby Boehner
Francis’ speech in the House chamber came under the phrase ‘In God We Trust,’ carved atop the wall behind the speaker’s podium
Ultimately the shepherd of more than 1.2 billion Catholics counseled adherence to a Biblical do-unto-others philosophy.
‘Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated,’ he implored Congress. ‘Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves.’
‘In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.’
Francis did warn against religious fundamentalism of the type that drew ISIS into the fight that has displaced an estimated 4 million Syrians, mostly young men.
‘Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion,’ he said.
‘We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind.’Women global leaders to watch in 2015