Friday, April 19, 2024

In America, Francis Delivers Powerful Message of Social Justice to Washington

Pope in Congress

This week, Pope Francis I, the 266th successor of Saint Peter and head of the 1.2 billion-strong Catholic Church made his first visit to the United States, and became the third sitting pontiff to visit the United States as he was welcomed by U.S. President Barack Obama on the South Lawn of The White House in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday at the start of what is to be a 6-day visit that included stops in Philadelphia and New York City as well as the first-ever address to a joint session of Congress by a pope in history.

Francis is the first Hispanic pope and the first from the Americas-born in Argentina. In his speech at The White House he declared that “as the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families.” A comment that is sure to have ramifications for America’s divided political climate in which presidential candidates in the Republican Party have advocated for harsher immigration measures such as renewed calls for a wall along the southern border, and in some cases, employing anti-immigrant language to galvanize voters in the primary season who typically represent the more extreme and conservative elements of the party.

President Obama and Pope Francis proceed inside The White House for a 45 minute meeting following the ceremony on the South Lawn which included a 21-gun salute and the Marine Corp band playing both the National Anthem and the Papal Anthem. Vice President Joe Biden, the nation’s first catholic vice president and Secretary of State John Kerry, both the highest ranking Catholics in the president’s executive cabinet met simultaneously with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who’s role is akin to that of prime minister, as he heads the Holy See’s political and diplomatic affairs and is the senior official, after the Pope, in the Roman Curia.

As predicted, Francis touched on his usual themes of justice and righting inequalities in society during his visit as he sought to introduce himself to the American audience, which according to a New York Times/CBS News poll, gives him a 41% approval. That number jumps to 61% when the sample is excluded to American Catholics.

Most significant, however, were his comments on climate change and on respecting one another in America’s hostile political atmosphere.

Speaking to President Obama during his remarks and voicing praise for the President’s agenda, Francis commented that “I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution. Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation. When it comes to the care of our common home, we are living at a critical moment of history.”

“We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners” said Francis who’s comments, as he addressed members of Congress, caught many from both parties watching in alternating periods of praise and admonishment as he touched on topics such as caring for others, violence in the name of religion and overcoming differences with other nations and cultures – a veiled reference to a thaw in U.S.-Cuban policy and the controversial Iranian nuclear deal reached by President Obama.

Added Francis to the President on Wednesday, “I hope to listen to and share many of the hopes and dreams of the American people. I hope as a brother of this country to offer words of encouragement about the nation’s political future [and that it] maintains fidelity to its founding principles.”


New York Times, Buzzfeed