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Pope challenges America in speech to US Congress

September 24, 2015

Pope Francis, in a historic address to the US Congress, offered a challenging examination of conscience for the people of a powerful nation, saying: “The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.”

In his address [for the full text, see the link below] the Pontiff openly prodded American lawmakers on immigration, climate change, arms trafficking, and the abolition of the death penalty. In more subtle language, he also reaffirmed the Church’s opposition to abortion, warned about attacks on the family, and repeated his call for respect of religious freedom.

The Pope encouraged Americans to see themselves as other people—of other societies or other generations—might see them. Particularly in his discussion of immigration, he reminded his listeners that most Americans are the children of immigrants, and he urged them to think of new immigrants as people who, like their own forebears, are simply seeking a better life for their children.

More pointedly, the Pope reminded his audience that earliest immigrants from Europe clashed with America’s native tribes. “Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected,” he remarked. He drew hearty applause when he encouraged today’s Americans not to repeat past mistakes, but to follow the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." [Mt 7:12]

In one of the few references to international affairs during his speech, the Pope appeared to be following his predecessors, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, in a critique of US military involvement in the Middle East. After decrying the rise of religious fanaticism, the Pontiff said: “We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.”

The Pope also signaled his support for an end to the US embargo on Cuba, without explicitly mentioning the issue, when he said: “When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue — a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons — new opportunities open up for all.”

As he neared the close of his historic address, the Pope reminded Congress what the primary purpose of his visit to the US was the World Meeting of Families. He said that the family would be “a recurrent theme” of his public talks during this week’s visit, and he lamented that the family “is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without.”


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