Pope Speaks to Congress
Igniting an avid reception, Pope Francis’ trip to the United States was highlighted by a speech to Congress, which millions watched. The occasion was momentous, as no previous Pope has ever addressed Congress. Pope Francis’ speech extended to issues that divide Americans, but ultimately accentuated the staggering challenges not only faced by Americans, but also by the world.
Alluding to Martin Luther King Jr. and other bastions of liberty, the Pope related to the American experience and how it urges him to encourage Americans to follow the initiative of their heroes; to take up the cause of the deprived; and remain compassionate to those who are disadvantaged.
He further extended this premise to immigration. As a son of a migrant family that searched for opportunity and renewed hope, Pope Francis asserted, “The people of this continent are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners.” Rather than rejecting those who desire the same security, Americans should “educate new generations not to turn their back on our neighbors” or “repeat the sins and the errors of the past,” he continued. Such invocation strongly addresses the issue of illegal entry into the United States and the resulting immigration crisis, which has divided so many Americans.
Building on the need for compassion and commitment to the underprivileged, Pope Francis cited the heroism of social activist Dorothy Day. Combating poverty and providing opportunity to those who live in an economy that is exclusive is a battle Day championed. According to Pope Francis, “part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth” and the proper remedy is to enliven “an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable.”
Climate Change and Family
Another controversial subject the Pope expanded upon was climate change. American conservatives typically deny climate change as a fact-based reality; however, Pope Francis calls for “a courageous and responsible effort” to reverse the “environmental deterioration caused by human activity” and such effort Pope Francis believes resides most in the will of the Congress.
Pope Francis did not only lend weight to the more popular issues on the left; he also discussed conservative issues as well according to the analysis of his speech by The New York Times. When speaking of the importance of family, the Pope expressed his concern, saying, “fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage.”
When speaking of respecting others and the magnanimity of the golden rule, he concluded it is of utmost importance “to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development” emboldening the crusade of conservatives to ban abortions. However, such comment was followed by a plea to abolish the death penalty, which has been advocated for by liberals.
Aside from specifically addressing polarized issues, Pope Francis’ intrinsic message was for the cooperation of a disunited world, according to the Los Angeles Times. The theme of following the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day and other American heroes allowed Pope Francis to spread the subtle, but crucial message: “We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.”
Furthermore, he prodded Congress to act; to “initiate processes rather than possessing spaces,” and help resolve the demanding challenges as one together in a unity of many countries that share a common cause.
Pope Addresses the U.N.
Following his address to Congress, Pope Francis, who is the fifth Pope to visit the United Nations, gave a speech to the General Assembly in New York City. The room was full of heads of state, dignitaries from countries across the world and a multitude of influential people.
Pope Francis kicked off the 70th gathering by highlighting causes he’s been fighting for since the beginning of his papacy. A major point during his speech was the environment. He said that people around the world need to do something about protecting the environment because as humans, we are a part of the environment and any harm done to it, is done to us. Pope Francis stressed humans must stop the overuse and abuse of the environment. “…(God) permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator,” the Pope said. “He is not authorized to abuse it, much less destroy it.”
The U.N. was ready for Pope Francis’ criticism, which the Pope noticed. He approved of a plan coming from the organization that works to eradicate poverty, income inequality, and helps fight some climate change problems, according to the United Nations News Centre. “The adoption of the ‘2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ at the World Summit, which opens today, is an important sign of hope,” he said.
Fighting poverty and speaking up for the marginalized is another main initiative the Pope has been working on since 2013, which he made a central part of his U.N. Address. Giving people the opportunity to rise up from extreme poverty on their own was his main argument. “Integral human development and the full exercise of human dignity cannot be imposed,” he said.
Pope Francis called on all government leaders to be responsible for making this possible for the poor and downtrodden. “Government leaders must do everything possible to ensure that all can have the minimum spiritual and material means needed to live in dignity and to create and support a family, which is the primary cell of any social development,” the Pope said.
The physical needs he stressed are lodging, labor and land. The spiritual freedoms needed for every individual are the right to freely practice his or her religion, the right to education, and all other civil rights.
War and Nuclear Weapons
Pope Francis also called attention to the atrocities of war and the vast number of weapons of mass destruction in the world. “If we want true integral human development for all, we must work tirelessly to avoid war between nations and peoples,” the Pope pleaded in front of the leaders of 193 countries from all over the world. The Pope reminded the members of the General Assembly individuals’ lives are more important than ideological differences.
The Pope very clearly called for the end of nuclear weapons, saying, “There is urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the non-proliferation treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons.” Pope Francis then gave his approval to the Iran Nuclear Deal and expressed how he saw the deal as an example of how good things can get done in the world. He said he hopes the deal will last a long time and be effective.
The theme of Pope Francis’ speech was one of universal fraternity, and how we are all connected. This is in tune with his Jesuit background and to what he has said throughout his time as Pope. The Pope finished his U.S. trip in Philadelphia and headed back to the Vatican after the Meeting for Families on Sunday.
Editor’s Note: Information from The New York Times, The LA Times, The United Nations News Centre and The Vatican website was used in this report.