By Jennifer Gonzalez
Delivering an address to a joint session of Congress – the first for a pope – Pope Francis on Thursday challenged Congress to get past its polarization and address the important issues of our time: poverty and hunger, climate change, income inequality, immigration, and mass incarceration.
“Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you,” Pope Francis said.
Bread for the World is engaged in the same issues the pope addressed. Pope Francis peppered his message by noting the contributions of four American icons – Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton.
Outside the Capitol, thousands of people gathered to watch the address on jumbo screens. The mood was both spirited and reverential. The pope, whose native tongue is Spanish, spoke to the American people in English.
He opened his address to a popular American refrain when he expressed his gratitude for the invitation to speak to Congress in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” The gesture drew loud applause and a standing ovation.
The pope addressed several key Bread issues. The following are excerpts from his speech:
On poverty and hunger: “How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty! I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done, and that in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost. At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.”
On immigration: “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.”
On mass incarceration: “…every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.”
“I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.”
On climate change: “I call for a courageous and responsible effort to ‘redirect our steps,’ and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play.”
On social justice: “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.’ 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.”
Let’s heed the pope’s call and turn our faith into action. Tell Congress to pass a budget that addresses sequestration cuts and protects individuals and families struggling with hunger in the U.S. and around the world.
Jennifer Gonzalez is the associate online editor at Bread for the World.