The Pope Speaks

Perhaps you’ve heard the
Pope is in town – well several towns by now.

There is a lot I could
say about his visit.

The history being made –
He is first Pope to address a joint
session of Congress.

The millions watching,
listening and coming out.

The way some people seem
to not know quite what to do with this Pope.
Some wanting to take his ideas and ideals and leave his religion while
others want the religion without the deep commitment he calls for to the world and
people in need around us.

And it’s not every day you
have CNN,
the New York Times, Washington
Post
, USA
Today
and Huffington
running articles on a religious figure without a scandal.

A unique situation
indeed. But without a doubt any of my
words would fall far short of Pope Francis’ own and so I include them here in
all their inspiring, thought-provoking simplicity.

Friends,

I am most grateful for
your invitation to address this Joint Session of Congress in “the land of
the free and the home of the brave.” I would like to think that the reason
for this is that I too am a son of this great continent, from which we have all
received so much and toward which we share a common responsibility.

Each son or daughter of a given country has a
mission, a personal and social responsibility. Your own responsibility as
members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to
grow as a nation. You are the face of its people, their representatives. You
are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the
tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this
is the
chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a
vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members,
especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative
activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited,
called and convened by those who elected you.

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. 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.

Today I would like not only to address you, but through you the entire people
of the United States. Here, together with their representatives, I would like
to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women
who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily
bread, to save money and — one step at a time — to build a better life for
their families. These are men and women who are not concerned simply with
paying their taxes, but in their own quiet way sustain the life of society.
They generate solidarity by their actions, and they create organizations which
offer a helping hand to those most in need.

I would also like to enter
into dialogue with the many elderly persons who are a storehouse of wisdom
forged by experience, and who seek in many ways, especially through volunteer
work, to share their stories and their insights. I know that many of them are
retired, but still active; they keep working to build up this land. I also want
to dialogue with all those young people who are working to realize their great
and noble aspirations, who are not led astray by facile proposals, and who face
difficult situations, often as a result of immaturity on the part of many
adults. I wish to dialogue with all of you, and I would like to do so through
the historical memory of your people.

My visit takes place at a time when men and women of good will are
marking the anniversaries of several great Americans. The complexities of
history and the reality of human weakness notwithstanding, these men and women,
for all their many differences and limitations, were able by hard work and
self-sacrifice — some at the cost of their lives — to build a better future.
They shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the
American people. A people with this spirit can live through many crises,
tensions and conflicts, while always finding the resources to move forward, and
to do so with dignity. These men and women offer us a way of seeing and
interpreting reality. In honoring their memory, we are inspired, even amid
conflicts, and in the here and now of each day, to draw upon our deepest
cultural reserves.

I would like to mention four of these Americans: Abraham Lincoln,
Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.

This year marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the assassination
of President Abraham Lincoln, the guardian of liberty, who labored tirelessly
that “this nation, under God, (might) have a new birth of freedom”.
Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation
in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.

All of us are quite aware of, and deeply worried by, the
disturbing social and political situation of the world today. 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. This means
that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether
religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat
violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic
system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and
individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard
against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you
will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds
which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront
every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. 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. That is something which you, as a people,
reject.

Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and
justice. We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve
today’s many geopolitical and economic crises. Even in the developed world, the
effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent. Our efforts must
aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus
promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward
together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating
generously for the common good.

The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit
of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of
the United States. The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these
challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to
support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of
conscience.

In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly
contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today,
as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of
fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in
each society. Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to
eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be
overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.

Here I think of the political history of the United States, where
democracy is deeply rooted in the mind of the American people. All political
activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on
respect for his or her dignity. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,
that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with
certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit
of happiness.” 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.
Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in
order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which
sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its
goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty
that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.

Here too I think of the march which Martin Luther King led from
Selma to Montgomery fifty years ago as part of the campaign to fulfill his
“dream” of full civil and political rights for African Americans.
That dream continues to inspire us all. I am happy that America continues to
be, for many, a land of “dreams.” Dreams which lead to action, to
participation, to commitment. Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in
the life of a people.

In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to
pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this
continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once
foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of
you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who
were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their
nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest
esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent,
but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless,
when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and
the errors of the past. 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
“neighbors” and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to
recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mind-set of
hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant
effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.

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. 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. 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.”

This Rule points us in a clear direction. 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. The yardstick we use for others
will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds
us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its
development.

This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to
advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. 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. Recently my brother bishops
here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death
penalty. Not only do I support them, but 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.

In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot
fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker
Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the
oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the
saints.

How much progress has been made in this area in so many parts of
the world! 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.

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.” 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.”
“We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental
challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us
all.”

In Laudato Si’, 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. Now is the time for courageous actions
and strategies, aimed at implementing a “culture of care” and
“an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the
excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.” “We have the
freedom needed to limit and direct technology”; “to devise
intelligent ways of… developing and limiting our power”; and to put
technology “at the service of another type of progress, one which is
healthier, more human, more social, more integral.” In this regard, I am
confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can
make a vital contribution in the years ahead.

A century ago, at the beginning of the Great War, which Pope
Benedict XV termed a “pointless slaughter”, another notable American
was born: the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. He remains a source of spiritual
inspiration and a guide for many people. In his autobiography he wrote: “I
came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless
the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the
world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men
like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead
in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”. Merton was above all a
man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened
new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a
promoter of peace between peoples and religions.

From this perspective of dialogue, I would like to recognize the
efforts made in recent months to help overcome historic differences linked to
painful episodes of the past. It is my duty to build bridges and to help all
men and women, in any way possible, to do the same. 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. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same
as irresponsibility. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of
all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good
political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing
spaces.

Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly
determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts
throughout our world. Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons
being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and
society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is
drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and
culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms
trade.

Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four
dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and
non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and
Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.

Four representatives of the American people.

I will end my visit to your country in Philadelphia, where I will
take part in the World Meeting of Families. It is my wish that throughout my
visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been
to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and
encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is
threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental
relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage
and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the
richness and the beauty of family life.

In particular, I would like to call attention to those family
members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future
filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem
disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and
despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face
them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than
getting bogged down in discussions. At the risk of oversimplifying, we might
say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a
family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture
presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting
a family.

A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as
Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to
“dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin
Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the
oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which
becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.

In these remarks I have sought to present some of the richness of
your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire
that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as
possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to
dream.

God bless America!

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