By: Maria Alejandra Pulgar, @marialepulgar
DORAL, FL – On his final official engagement in Washington DC, Pope Francis became the first pontiff to address to a Joint Meeting of the United States Congress. His statements were focused on the importance of the protection of life and families as essential part of the recovery of the country.
“It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! ”
Social Injustice, respect to immigrants, abolition of death penalty, avoidance of fundamentalism; all these were themes touched by Pope Francis on his address, emphasizing on the role of the Congress of defending and preserving the “dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.”
The spirit of American People
Noting that his visit takes place on the year of important anniversaries for several people who embodied fundamental values that shape the spirit of American People, Pope Francis selected Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement and Cistercian monk Thomas Merton as examples of those Americans who through history have worked hard and some even lost their lives to build a better future for the nation.
Pope Francis used the lives and work of each of these Americans to come across the points he wanted to emphasize on his address.
Based on the life of Lincoln, who he called the Guardian of Liberty, the Pope went on make a call to action to resolve geopolitical and economic crises, avoiding any fundamentalism that could cause violence “perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms.”
“If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.”
The example of Martin Luther King allowed the Pope to introduce the themes of respect for immigrants and the differences among people, and also the protection of life in all stages.
A standing ovation followed his remarks about the Golden Rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12). “This Rule points us in a clear direction. 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”
Pope Francis also seized this opportunity for advocating vehemently for the abolition of the death penalty, stating that “a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.”
Using the life and work of the Servant of God Dorothy Day, the Pope spoke about the need for social justice and the need to work on solving the causes of extreme poverty: “The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes.”
Finally, the work of Thomas Merton as promoter of peace and dialogue between religions allowed the Pope to introduce his position regarding the relation between economic interest and arms trade.
The Protection of families
On the last part of his address the Pope stressed out his concern for the institution of families, especially when fundamental elements on the constitution of this entity are being questioned, such as the basis of marriage. Although it was not explicit, his remark can be interpreted as a concern for the recent approval of gay marriages across the nation. “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.”
He also called for the protection of children against violence and abuse and for the improvement of conditions that would allow young marriages to be able to start a family
Always a request for prayers
After finishing addressing the Joint Meeting the Pope had the chance to see the statue of Saint Fray Junipero Sierra that is located at the Congress and then appeared on the balcony facing the National Mall to greet the multitude of around 50,000 people.
This was the moment when the true smiling nature of the Pope finally arose, after the seriousness during his address to the Congress. He greeted the people in Spanish and, as has been usual since he started his papacy, requested people to pray for him.
However, he also had some words for those non-believers in the audience: “If there are some of you who do not believe or cannot pray I just ask you to send good wishes my way instead.”
Next steps on the Pope’s visit to the US
The Pope is expected to arrive at JFK airport in New York City at 5:00pm. From there he will be transported to the Wall Street Heliport and then via motorcade to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for the Pray of the Vespers at 7:00 pm.
Public will be able to see him on the Pope mobile on the last few blocks before the Cathedral.
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