Pope Francis was literally in the House on Thursday as he spoke to a joint meeting of Congress in Washington, where he related figures in American history as examples “to draw upon our deepest cultural reserves.”
He framed his speech not only to Congress but to the “entire people” of the United States.
Pope Francis at first reminded Congress of their elected responsibilities to all people.
“A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk,” he said.
But then he spoke about these four figures reflected “a democracy is deeply rooted in the mind of the American people.”
“A people with this spirit can live through many crises, tensions and conflicts, while always finding the resources to move forward, and to do so with dignity. These men and women offer us a way of seeing and interpreting reality. In honoring their memory, we are inspired, even amid conflicts, and in the here and now of each day, to draw upon our deepest cultural reserves. I would like to mention four of these Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton,” Pope Francis said.
The Pope also quoted passages from the Declaration of Independence and talked about the march to Selma led by Dr. King 50 years ago. “That dream continues to inspire us all. I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of ‘dreams,”” he said.
Pope Francis also cited the famous opening of the Constitution’s preamble in a reference to the ongoing political debate about immigration.
“We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants, he said.
As expected, Pope Francis also discussed climate change in his address, where he asked Congress to help deal with “environmental deterioration caused by human activity.” And he discussed the importance of families.
He also called for the global abolition of the death penalty. “I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation,” he said.
But he ended his speech with a closing reference to the four historical figures at the heart of his message.
“A nation can 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,” he said
“I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream,” Pope Francis concluded.
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