Pope Francis delivered his long-awaited speech to the U.S. Congress on Sept. 24.
With Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House John Boehner — both Catholics — sitting behind him, the pope addressed issues such as immigration, the Syrian migration crisis and climate change.
He also discussed “family values” and the right to life, calling for a global end to capital punishment. In a Congress torn apart by political division, the pope’s speech was mostly well-received by those in attendance.
The pope is an interesting global figure. He was appearing in front of Congress as the head of state of the Vatican, as he will do when he attends the U.N. General Assembly later in the week. Yet he’s also a religious leader, with influence spanning across borders to the estimated 1.2 billion Catholics around the world.
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With his messages of taking responsibility for climate change, ending income inequality and addressing other issues relating to the poor, Pope Francis has been controversial both inside and outside the Church.
Although he claims he’s “not a leftist,” he certainly espouses anti-capitalistic views. He’s also making progressive reforms within the Church, calling into question the values of many conservative American Catholics.
The pope is difficult to figure out because his ideals do not conform to either the Democratic or Republican worldview. He opposes the death penalty, but he’s against abortion. He wants to help the poor, yet same-sex marriage doesn’t fit into his definition of a traditional family. He’s still serving the Catholic Church, yet he’s dedicated to helping the poor from all walks of life.
It would be difficult for an American politician to agree with all of his views. They aren't binary enough as there are simply too many contradictions. Yet the message that he’s spreading is obviously having influence across the globe.
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Catholics have historically been aligned with both political parties in the U.S. — with Democratic President John F. Kennedy the first representative of the religion.
The fact that both Biden and Boehner can greet their religion’s leader despite their wildly differing political views shows just how powerful the pope’s positions and influence can be.
While the American political system is bogged down in left vs. right gridlock, the pope’s message could help the country move forward. Even Bernie Sanders, the Jewish senator from Vermont who has spoken out against organized religion, has praised the pope’s commentary on income inequality.
Not everyone agrees with everything Pope Francis says, but his visit to the U.S. is certainly a step forward in the dialogue on important issues that too often get lost in America’s two-party system.