Pope Francis began the second full day of his visit to the United States by becoming the first pontiff to address a joint meeting of Congress. Speaking to this highly partisan and gridlocked body, the Holy Father called for “a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity” in service of the “common good.” He said:
“The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.”
He urged that “the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society” and constitutes “a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.”
The Holy Father outlined a vision for Congress and the nation based on “the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good,” which he characterized as “the chief aim of all politics.” He said that enduring political systems “satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk.” He praised Moses as a lawgiver who “symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation” and who “leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being.”
In an appeal to the better angels of the nation, the Holy Father lifted up the examples of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, as leaders who “shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the American people” and who contributed to the nation’s “deepest cultural reserves.” “A nation can be considered great,” he said towards the end of his address, “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.”
Drawing on Dr. King’s “dream” for civil and political rights for all Americans, Pope Francis offered an extensive reflection on the immigrant roots of the United States, the aspirations of immigrants, and the need for compassion and generosity toward them:
“In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. 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.
Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but we know it is very difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present.
Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past.
We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our “neighbors” and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.
Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, 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. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember 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. 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 yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.”
The Holy Father concluded his remarks by repeating the theme of “America as a land of ‘dreams,’” saying, “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.”
After exiting the joint meeting of Congress, Pope Francis visited a statue of Junipero Serra, whom he canonized the day before, and then joined Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House John Boehner on a Capitol balcony to greet the tens of thousands gathered at the National Mall. He then visited St. Patrick’s Church and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, where he met and dined with 300 people, many of them homeless. In a short talk, he told them:
“We know that Jesus wanted to show solidarity with every person. He wanted everyone to experience his companionship, his help, his love. He identified with all those who suffer, who weep, who suffer any kind of injustice. He tells us this clearly: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:35).
Faith makes us know that God is at our side, that God is in our midst and his presence spurs us to charity. Charity is born of the call of a God who continues to knock on our door, the door of all people, to invite us to love, to compassion, to service of one another.
Jesus keeps knocking on our doors, the doors of our lives. He doesn’t do this by magic, with special effects, with flashing lights and fireworks. Jesus keeps knocking on our door in the faces of our brothers and sisters, in the faces of our neighbors, in the faces of those at our side.”
Completing his Washington DC visit, Pope Francis departed for New York City. He arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport and was greeted by the Most Reverend Nicholas DiMarzio, Bishop of Brooklyn and CMS Board Chairman, and His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York. They and others boarded helicopters for Manhattan to attend evening prayer at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Leading the vespers, the Holy Father again offered words of encouragement to his fellow clergy and religious. Evoking the words of Dorothy Day, he reflected on the Christian understanding of success:
“The cross shows us a different way of measuring success. Ours is to plant the seeds: God sees to the fruits of our labors. And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and produce no fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus … and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, the failure of the cross.
He then spoke of the spirit of gratitude and hard work:
[W]e need to learn how to rest in a way that deepens our desire to serve with generosity. Closeness to the poor, the refugee, the immigrant, the sick, the exploited, the elderly living alone, prisoners and all God’s other poor, will teach us a different way of resting, one which is more Christian and generous.
Gratitude and hard work: these are two pillars of the spiritual life which I have wanted to share with you this evening…”
The Holy Father continues his New York schedule on Friday with an address to the UN General Assembly, a multi-faith service at the 9/11 Memorial, a visit with Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem, a procession through Central Park, and mass at Madison Square Garden.
View Pope Francis’ full US schedule at http://www.popefrancisvisit.com/official-final-schedule-of-pope-francis-u-s-visit-2015/.
Watch live stream coverage of Pope Francis’ US visit at http://www.usccb.org/about/leadership/holy-see/francis/papal-visit-2015/papal-visit-2015-live-stream.cfm.