Many people made more of a fuss, perhaps, over the Pope’s polite refusal of lunch with the United States’ foremost political figures than they did over the content of his address to Congress. Others, however, accurately noted that his prior obligation to lunch with the homeless instead of politicians was a pretty thorough encapsulation of the content of his speech where he discussed that the United States, though a wonderful, driven, and inspiring nation for countless individuals, has a few priority issues to deal with.
Indeed, Pope Francis’s address to a Joint Session of Congress on Thursday, September 24th was perhaps one of the most talked about and most political aspects of Pope Francis’s recent visit to the United States. In addition to being the first time that a Joint Session of Congress has ever been addressed by a reigning pontiff, it also proved to be a powerfully progressive speech that, while appealing to the United States’ record of excellence and progress, wrestled directly with a number of modern issues that still have yet to be dealt with. Some of the world’s most pressing modern issues, as Pope Francis suggests, include global climate change, wealth and income inequality, the encouragement of religious freedom, and the ongoing difficulties faced by immigrants and refugees.
Pope Francis received an immediate standing ovation, for example, for his comments regarding the worldwide difficulties faced by immigrants and refugees, to which the current U.S. Immigration Policy is unfortunately an intimate contributor.
“We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories…” Pope Francis remarked. “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.’”
To be sure, Pope Francis’s observations regarding the state of the world’s immigrants and refugees are particularly moving alongside the immigration question that has so thoroughly dominated the 2016 Presidential Race.
Even more boldly, Pope Francis called attention to the unfortunate realities of both income inequality and the potential for governmental systems to be corrupted by monetary concerns.
“If politics must truly be at the service of the human person,” Pope Francis remarked, “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.”
The persistent trouble of money in American politics, of course, occurs alongside a slowly widening gap between the country’s very richest and very poorest.
The results of making monetary concerns predominant in a political system, as Pope Francis observes, may be the danger of forgetting “all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty.”
Bernie Sanders, who is running in the 2016 Presidential Race on a platform dedicated to correcting income equality, was particularly moved by the Pope’s remarks.
“The Pope is right in saying all of us must address the grotesque income and wealth inequality we are seeing through the world,” Sanders said via Twitter.
Pope Francis concluded his speech by alluding to some of the United States’ greatest social and political heroes.
“A nation can be considered great 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,” Pope Francis said.
The greatness of the United States and that of the world going forward, he observed, will come down to how we decide to handle the modern issues that are currently on our plate.
“It is my desire,” Pope Francis concluded, “that this spirit will 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.”
Surely, Pope Francis’s speech to Congress managed to both stress the track record of excellence that the United States currently holds and, more importantly, the difficulty of the decisions that will determine whether or not we retain that record. Undoubtedly, Pope Francis’s speech will be sure to provide insight both for candidates and for voters as the election process progresses.
-Austin Wash ’16, Senior Politics/Opinions Editor