Pope Francis Speaks to Congress
Last week the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Francis, delivered a speech to the U.S. Congress. For my friends who are too busy to read the whole speech but who might be interested to know the gist of it, I have prepared this summary. None of this should be considered a quotation – just the gist of what was said.
Thanks for letting me speak here. It’s good to be in the Western Hemisphere again. It’s a great place. Even though I work mainly in Italy now, I have not forgotten my responsibility to my home country. We should each affirm our responsibility to our own country. You here in the Congress of the United States represent its people. Your work is an expression of your care for the people of your nation. As law-givers, your role is like the role of Moses, who provided just legislation for Israel, and also led his people toward God, reminding them that they were all made in the image of God.
Today I address not only the Congress, but all of the people of the United States. I wish to speak to the many thousands of men and women who work honestly to provide for their families, pursuing a better life. I would like to speak today to those who create organizations to assist the needy. I would like to speak today to the many elderly persons who actively share their wisdom and volunteer to build this great nation. I would like to speak to the young people, too, who are pursuing noble plans to overcome difficult situations. I wish to speak to all of you, and to remind you of some individuals in your history.
Many Americans deserve to be mentioned. Today I will mention four: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.
Lincoln was assassinated 150 years ago. He labored tirelessly so that “this nation, under God,” would have a new birth of freedom.
The world today is increasingly violent. Atrocities are being committed in the name of a religion. No religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism.
We should guard against every kind of fundamentalism, and combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion. We should also encourage the safeguarding of religious freedom, intellectual freedom, and individual freedoms.
We should guard against the temptation to frame situations in terms of the good and the evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world is complicated, and so we should confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. In the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.
Instead of hatred and violence, we should offer hope and healing – peace and justice – courage and intelligence. Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent. We ought to attempt to restore hope, right wrongs, maintain commitments, and thus promote the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together for the common good.
We should cooperate, and thus achieve progress. The history of the United States is filled with examples of progress through cooperation. Our present challenges demand that we combine our resources and talents, and work together, for each other, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.
Various religious denominations in the United States have helped build a strong society. The voice of faith should continue to be heard in the United States today, for it is a voice of brotherhood and love – a voice which pursues the full potential of each person, and which opposes new global forms of slavery which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.
The pursuit of each person’s full potential ought to be a political goal: the expression of a community with common interests. This is a difficult task, but it is one that I encourage. I think of the march which Martin Luther King led from Selma to Montgomery fifty years ago as part of the campaign to fulfill his dream for African Americans. That dream continues to inspire us all. Dreams lead to action, and to commitment, and awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people.
Now let’s talk issues. Most of the people in the Western Hemisphere are descended from people who were once foreigners here. Tragically, the rights of indigenous people were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those were turbulent and violent times. Today we face a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. We must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must not our back on our neighbors. We must recognize that we must constantly relate to others. Instead of embracing a mindset of hostility, we should adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity.
In the Western Hemisphere, there is an immigration crisis too, as thousands of people travel north in search of opportunities for a better life for themselves and their loved ones. They want what we want for our own children. We should see them not as numbers, but as persons, and we should respond in a way that is always humane, just and fraternal. We should resist the temptation to discard whatever is troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
This Rule points us in a clear direction. If we want security, let us give security. If we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.
This conviction has led me to advocate for the global abolition of the death penalty. Every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. The bishops here in the United States recently renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty, and I support them, as well as others who believe that a just and necessary punishment must always include the hopeful goal of rehabilitation.
Moving along: social concerns are very important in the United States. Dorothy Day, a socialist who we might officially declare to be a saint, was an American who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her endorsement of socialism in the service of the oppressed was inspired by the gospel.
We are really making headway against poverty in many parts of the world – but much still needs to be done. Remember the poor. Remember the hungry. I know that many Americans today are working to deal with this problem.
You might be wondering what I think about the distribution of wealth. The proper use of resources and technology, combined with hard work, is necessary to an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. Business is a noble vocation, intended to produce wealth and improve the world – especially when the businessman sees job-creation as an essential means of serving the common good.
What about the climate, you ask? Well, the common good also includes the earth. I wrote an encyclical about this recently called Laudato Si and expressed the need to address the current environmental challenges we face. I am confident that we can make a difference on the environment, and avert the effects of the environmental deterioration that have been caused by human activity. I believe that the U.S. Congress has an important role to play in achieving this goal. As we pursue a “culture of care,” we should also maintain our desire to combat poverty, restore dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protect nature.
Now about Thomas Merton, an American monk. Merton was a man of prayer. He also was a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions. With his example in mind, I would like to recognize the efforts made in recent months to help overcome historic differences linked to painful episodes of the past. We should try to build bridges, not walls, between nations. We should dialogue, rather than simply occupy territory.
Willingness to dialogue involves a determination to minimize and eventually end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. We must ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who intend to inflict untold suffering upon other people? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simple: for the money. We have a moral duty to stop the arms trade.
So: four Americans, with four dreams: Lincoln who dreamed of liberty; Martin Luther King, who dreamed of plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, who dreamed of social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, who dreamed of the capacity for dialogue and openness to God. These four people represent America.
I will end my visit here in Philadelphia, at the World Meeting of Families. I wish to emphasize again and again the importance of the family. The family has been essential to the building of this country. It remains worthy of our support and encouragement. Yet I am deeply concerned for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.
In particular, let us remember the children. Young people face cultural pressure against starting a family, either because they lack financial security, or because there are simply so many options that they are distracted from starting a family.
In conclusion: a nation can be considered great when it defends liberty, like Lincoln; when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, like Martin Luther King; when it strives for justice against oppression, as Dorothy Day; and when its people pursue dialogue, peace, and spiritual contemplation, like Thomas Merton.
In these remarks I have sought to present some of the richness of the heritage of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow. God bless America!
James E. Snapp Jr. serves as a minister at Curtisville Christian Church. Check out his other writing at The Text of the Gospels.