Making history today as the first Pope to address Congress, Francis held up two radical figures from the Catholic left as examples of inspiration for United States’ legislators.
In his speech to a packed Joint Session of US Congress that applauded his arrival into the chamber, Francis said that he wanted to offer to the Republican-dominated body four Americans who “offer us a way of seeing and interpreting reality” and cited Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, and Thomas Merton, the monk-activist spiritual writer.
The other two were Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King.
Day (1897-1980) and Merton (1915-68) combined a radical political activism - which many congressmen would consider dangerously left wing - with a deep prayer life.
Both were converts to Catholicism, wrote widely read accounts of their spiritual journeys and had personal lives which might be described as “very human”: Day had an abortion and was a single mother while Merton fell in love with an engaged woman who nursed him following a back operation.
THE POPE IN THE US...
Pope Francis cited Day, an advocate of economic distributism, as an example of social activism with a “passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed”. On Merton, the Pope described the monk as “a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church”.
The pair were active opponents of war and would have supported the Pope’s denunciation of the arms trade, which he described in his congress speech as motivated by “money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood”.
His Congress speech continued with themes that have become part of his US visit: climate change, economic justice, immigration and the family.
Most notably on his way into the chamber he warmly shook hands with John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, who has been vocal in supporting the Pope's stance on climate change.
Pope Francis receives a warm welcome from Congress (PA)
The Pope once again described himself as the “son of immigrants” and urged Congress to welcome those who travel to the US to pursue their dreams. He added that the world was facing a refugee crisis “of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War.” And tomorrow, when he is in New York, Francis will meet an immigrant family in East Harlem who left Mexico for a new life in America.
“We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners,” the Pope said. “We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our “neighbours” and everything around us.
READ MORE IN THIS WEEK'S THE TABLET NEWSPAPER...
Subscribe today for all the latest analysis, news and comment. Click here for offers
Building a nation calls us to recognise that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best.”
“To a standing ovation from the floor, Francis stressed that the “golden rule” from Matthews Gospel of “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you” should be followed on the question of migration wile it also “reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.”
The latter, the Pope explained, led him to the conviction that the death penalty, legal in 31 US states, should be abolished.
Pope Francis arrives on Capitol Hill ahead of his speech to Congress (PA)
"I am convinced that this way is the best, since 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 Pope said.
Francis speech was a call for legislators to try and resolve the geopolitical and economic crises facing the world today and to try and combat “unjust structures”.
This evening the Pope departs for New York where he will attend vespers at St Patrick’s Cathedral New York, recently restored at a cost of $175 million (£114 million).
Tomorrow he will address the United Nations which will be followed a visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels School, East Harlem and procession through Central Park. The day will conclude with Mass at Madison Square Garden.
KEEP UP TO DATE ON TWITTER...
Follow all the latest news and events from the Pope's visit to Cuba and the US via The Tablet's Twitter feed @the_tablet