Before a joint session of Congress this morning, Pope Francis delivered a rousing address calling upon Americans to live up to the highest of our nation’s ideals. Pointing to Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton, Francis praised Americans for their commitments to “liberty,” “liberty in plurality and non-exclusion,” “social justice and the rights of persons,” and “the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.”
Pope Francis began his address by highlighting the importance of politics, praising it as calling from God:
You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. 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. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.
Indeed, Francis offered Moses as a model for all lawmakers: “The figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being.” And he reminded members of Congress of their central task: “You are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.” Later on he reiterated, “All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity.”
The loudest and longest ovation took place when Pope Francis reiterated his support for the rights of all persons, regardless of age, stage of development or disability: “The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.”
Pope Francis promoted an integral ecology of freedom. Emphasizing the central role of religious freedom, he called on those gathered to work on “safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms.” This reiterated his call from Wednesday at the White House. There, turning to address President Obama directly, Pope Francis said:
As my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend [religious] freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.
Indeed, after celebrating a canonization Mass yesterday afternoon, Pope Francis made an unscheduled, surprise visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor—the order of nuns suing the Obama administration because of its attempts to violate their religious freedom through the HHS mandate.
Pope Francis spoke extensively about the importance of the family, explaining that his attendance at the World Meeting of Families was the primary reason for his visit to the United States: “It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme.” Indeed, Pope Francis urged listeners to recognize “How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement!” These remarks earned another long, loud standing ovation.
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Pope Francis also highlighted that the family is under assault:
Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.
To a culture contemplating assisted suicide, Francis reminded us that the elderly “are a storehouse of wisdom forged by experience;” to a culture that celebrates celebrity, Francis highlighted the dignity of work and workers.
Indeed, Pope Francis quoted his encyclical, Laudato Si, noting that “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.”
In calling political leaders to care for the poor, Francis noted that “The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes.” And he added that “it goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth.”
Pope Francis also called for an end to capital punishment, for politicians and scholars to work together to find the best ways to care for creation, and to welcome the immigrant.
“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.”
All in all, Pope Francis reminded all of us of the importance of the Golden Rule:
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. 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 Pope closed his address with three simple words: “God bless America!”