In a historic first address by a pontiff to a joint meeting of Congress, Pope Francis implored American lawmakers to follow the "golden rule" in dealing with immigration and the refugee crisis that has enveloped the world.
"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," Francis said. "To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. 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."
Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of Congress, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
The pontiff urged lawmakers to reject a "mindset of hostility" and to see immigrants as individuals, listening to their stories and responding in appropriate and humane ways.
"Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions," he said. "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?"
Francis began his sweeping hour-long remarks by imploring politicians to look to the biblical character of Moses when looking for an example of how they should conduct their work.
"Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. 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," he said. "On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being.
He continued, "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."
Francis' message included a warning as well as a call for cooperation, as he highlighted his fears over the "disturbing social and political situation of the world today," and said that everyone has a responsibility to cooperate in an effort to help chaos.
"Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism," the pontiff said. "This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind."
He encouraged everyone to respond with "hope and healing" and through "peace and justice," calling for courage and smarts to solve the dire issues facing the world today.
"If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance," he said. "Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good."
The pope invoked the works of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, specifically citing King's civil rights march in Selma.
"That dream continues to inspire us all. I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of dreams," Francis said. "Dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment. Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people."
Francis called Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, a "servant of God" for her "social activism" and her search for justice for those who were "oppressed."
"Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and nonexclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God," he said. "Four representatives of the American people."
Pope Francis greets school children before he departs the Apostolic Nunciature, the Vatican's diplomatic mission in the heart of Washington, en route to the Capitol to address a joint meeting of Congress Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
The pope also implored everyone listening to reach out and help the poor and those in need.
"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," he said. "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."
He also took on the arms trade and why deadly weapons are sold to those who plan to inflict suffering.
"Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood," he said. "In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade."
Francis then transitioned to the subject of the death penalty, affirming support for the efforts of U.S. bishops to see it abolished and calling for "hope and the goal of rehabilitation."
A familiar and expected theme in the address was the environment, where Francis cited challenges that need to be addressed and called for individuals to work against the "most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity."