Pope Francis spoke to the U.S. Congress Thursday while thousands of people gathered outside to watch the event on large screens.
Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, making history as the first pontiff to do so.
Hundreds crowded inside the House of Representatives chamber to hear the first Roman Catholic pontiff deliver an address to American government officials.
The pope enjoyed a warm welcome in Washington D.C. Large crowds attended several papal events over the past two days. They lined the streets near where he spoke. Although he walked slowly because of back pain, he stopped often to talk with people and touch their hands.
Four Americans frame the pope's message
The pope’s message to Congress was based on the stories of four Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. He connected the life of each of these Americans to a part of his speech.
Pope Francis talked about President Abraham Lincoln as a guardian of liberty. Lincoln worked hard so:
“This nation, under God, [might] have a new birth of freedom.”
He spoke about religious and other freedoms enjoyed in the United States.
“A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms.”
He spoke of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and:
His “dream of full civil and political rights for African Americans.”
The pope said, “That dream continues to inspire us all. I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of ‘dreams.’”
He spoke of the lesser known Dorothy Day, who was a co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. The movement works nonviolently for justice. Catholic Worker communities are against war and the economic inequality.
Last, he spoke of Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk. Merton supported the peace movement and social justice. He called for a better understanding of Asian religions.
"He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.”
These four Americans helped to show what the pope wants to see: a world that cooperates to fight poverty, injustice, and violence.
Pope Francis referred to the U.S. agreement with Iran and the new relationship with Cuba.
“I would like to recognize the efforts made in recent months to help overcome historic differences linked to painful episodes of the past. It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same.”
Immigrants and refugees
The issue of refugees and immigrants were important in the pope’s message. He talked about being the son of immigrants. He said many members of Congress were children of immigrants, too.
Speaking of the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe, he asked Americans to apply the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
The Pope put in a word for Latin American immigrants to the U.S.
“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. 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.”
Speaking to a Congress that many say is more divided than ever, he urged action. He said a good political leader chooses to start working on programs instead of simply taking up space.
Devout Catholic and House Speaker John Boehner invited the pope to speak to Congress.
Democratic Representative Luis Gutierrez of Illinois said the kindness of Pope Francis for migrants is very different from the tough anti-immigrant talk of leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
"In many ways, Pope Francis represents the anti-Trump, the antidote to his venom," Gutierrez said.
A busy schedule
Later in the day, the Pope flew to New York City to celebrate Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral.
Friday, he was scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly. Saturday morning, he was to travel to Philadelphia for this weekend’s Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families.
On Sunday, he is expected to celebrate an outdoor Mass, expected to draw nearly 2 million people.
Moral action for climate change
At the same time Pope Francis spoke to Congress, there was a rally on the National Mall. Sponsored by a network of environmental and religious groups, the Moral Action on Climate Justice Rally brought musicians and speakers to echo the Pope’s message. VOA talked with some of the environmental activists after the pope’s speech.
Sandy Muffatti and Hank Helman stood with handmade wind turbine “whirligigs.” They said they liked the pope’s message of protecting the planet. Mr. Helman, of Ruckersville, Virginia, said he hopes that Congress listens to the pope’s message.
Roy Taylor is the Clerk of the Quaker Earthcare Witness group. He said the issues of peace and climate were all connected. The Syrian refugee crisis had its roots in a drought. Mr. Taylor said the number of refugees in Europe is a climate change issue.
Harriet Sugarman is the founder of Climate Mama . After she was trained by Al Gore, she started the group to help parents talk with children about the climate. Leslie Meek of Climate Mama said the pope was brave in talking about specific issues but did not directly talk about some controversial issues.
Jodi Rose is the Executive Director of of Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake. Her organization helps religious groups to plant trees and take action to aid the environment. She heard the pope say that if anybody can solve these difficult environmental and social problems, the United States can.
I’m Jill Robbins.
Dr. Jill Robbins reported and wrote this story for Learning English with information from AP and VOA News sources. Kathleen Struck was the editor.
Words in This Story
pontiff – n. the head of the Roman Catholic Church
perpetrate – v. to do (something that is illegal or wrong)
safeguard- v. to make (someone or something) safe or secure; protect
nonviolent- adj. not using or involving violence
Trappists – n. a community of monks belonging to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, the most severe Roman Catholic monastic order.
whirligig -- n. a device with paddles or parts that are moved by the wind, it turns and whirls
Now it’s your turn. What do you think of the pope’s message to Congress?