In his first public remarks in the United States, Pope Francis set the tone for his Thursday address to Congress on Wednesday by reminding American political leaders of their constitutional duties.
Pope Francis spoke to a crowd of about 15,000 people outside the White House in Washington, and he didn’t shy away from addressing a few political issues – and America’s leaders.
“During my visit I will have the honor of addressing Congress, where I hope, as a brother of this country, to offer words of encouragement to those called to guide the nation’s political future in fidelity to its founding principles,” he said in reading prepared remarks.
Link: Read the Pope’s remarks
He also noted his appearance this Saturday near Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the site of the meetings that led to the creation of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Pope Francis also talked about the importance of religious liberty.
“American Catholics are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination. With countless other people of good will, they are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty. That freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions,” he remarked.
The Pope will address a joint meeting on Congress at 10 a.m. EDT on Thursday, in what could be his most closely watched speech on American soil.
House Speaker John Boehner invited Pope Francis to speak to the members of the House and Senate earlier this year.
One issue the Pope spoke about in detail today, and is expected to address tomorrow with Congress, is climate change.
“It seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation,” he said. “To use a telling phrase of the Reverend Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honor it.”
Pope Francis was making a direct reference to Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech and King’s call for racial equality in August 1963. “In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir,” King said in his famous remarks.
Pope Francis isn’t the first world leader to speak to a joint meeting of the House and Senate. Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Queen Elizabeth II and Anwar Sadat had appeared at public meetings of the two legislative chambers. Recently, Binyamin Netanyahu addressed a joint meeting of Congress during the debate over the Iran nuclear deal.
But Francis is the first Pope to speak to Congress, and the common expectation on the eve of his speech is that the remarks will touch on some sensitive domestic political issues, including climate change, immigration, the rights of the unborn, the rights of families and income equality.
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