Pope Francis to Congress: the Golden Rule requires us to protect human life, creation

The first pontiff to address a joint meeting of the US Congress asked for dialogue and sought to cheer on "the spirit of the American people."

And that’s how history is made: Pope Francis took full advantage of being the first Successor of St. Peter to address a joint meeting of the United States Congress. Championing and challenging all political ideologies, Pope Francis invoked the Golden Rule to urge Americans to protect human life in all stages, aid immigrants and the poor, nurture the good of the biological family, and care for creation.

And he placed all of this at the feet of those listening in the House Chambers and beyond.

“Legislative activity is always based on care for the people,” he said. “To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.”

Almost four years to the day since Benedict XVI spoke to Germany’s governing body, which was boycotted by the country’s Green Party lawmakers, Pope Francis’s talk drew similar (if smaller) protests from US conservatives—most notably from Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar who boycotted the talk.

“Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses,” the pontiff told the American lawmakers.

“On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.”

Pope Francis hit many of the key themes he laid out Wednesday in his opening comments at the White House. But today he spoke at length (and again in his non-native English) to lawmakers and the people of the nation as a pastor and friend.

The address was also framed with his plans for lunch with the needy of Washington D.C. rather than with the politicos. And when speaking to the crowd outside after his address, he said that the most important people present were the children, whom he blessed before asking for prayers himself.

A pastor’s place is, after all, to preach the good word and then live it.

While a joint session of Congress includes attendance form other federal branches, like the justices of the Supreme Court, joint meetings (such as today’s gathering) often don’t draw the same level of interest and invitation.

But of course there was astronomical levels of interest with Pope Francis, making this one of the most coveted tickets to a Capitol event in recent memory. And so minutes before Pope Francis arrived, so did the Supreme Court and the President’s Cabinet,

The eco-message

Pope Francis complimented the business and academic communities for their ingenuity—and also asked for its help in solving the problems of our age.

It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (Laudato Si’, 129).

This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to “enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” (ibid., 3). “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (ibid., 14).

Dialogue was a common theme of the Holy Father’s address, as it has been throughout his visit and within his encyclical Laudato Si’.

With the lawmakers of the United States of America looking like beaming schoolchildren at Christmas as they awaited the arrival of the Holy Father, the chambers burst into applause when "The Pope of the Holy See" arrived, which had some in the secular world upset that so much attention was given to a religious leader—and a Catholic at that—in the heart of the US Capitol. As Supreme Pontiff, Pope Francis is also the head of state for Vatican City, which has full diplomatic relations with the United States.

As always, stay tuned for more as the Pope continues his apostolic journey deeper into the lives and hearts of the American people.

Read the full and official address here.

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About the Blog

Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.