Pope Francis delivered his remarks to a joint meeting of Congress on the morning of Sept. 24. In accented English, the pontiff expressed both his admiration for the U.S. and his concerns regarding its role in the world going forward.
During his speech, Pope Francis touched upon several issues that have been controversial in a divided U.S. Congress.
“Each son or daughter of a given country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility,” Pope Francis began, according to the New Republic. “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.”
The pontiff then compared the role of lawmakers to Moses, explaining that “you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.”
Pope Francis expressed a desire to establish a dialogue with the U.S. people, from the young to the old to the hardworking, and framed his arguments using American history.
He held up four American icons as embodiments of American values: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.
Pope Francis began with Abraham Lincoln, relating his struggles during the American Civil War to the conflicts and disagreements across the world today. The pontiff said that “building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.”
Pope Francis then held up Martin Luther King Jr. as an American who exemplified the U.S. tradition of dreaming for a better future.
“I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of ‘dreams,'" he said. “Dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment. Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people.”
The pontiff pivoted these remarks to the Syrian refugee crisis currently impacting Europe as well as immigrants from Central America trying to enter the U.S., people who he believes all harbor a universal dream.
“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," he said.
“To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal," he added. "We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome.”
Next he discussed Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Praising her efforts to curb poverty, the pontiff stressed to Congress that much still needs to be done to help those who are struggling, including addressing the environment and having a conversation about the distribution of wealth.
Finally, he praised Thomas Merton, a Cistercian Monk during the First World War. Pope Francis hailed Merton as a “man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.”
The pontiff took this opportunity to voice thinly-veiled praise of the Iran Deal.
“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,” he said.
Pope Francis also took aim at the U.S. record for violence, making it clear that he is in favor of gun control.
“Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society?" he said. "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.”
The pontiff received enthusiastic applause when he praised the family unit as a building block of America. He expressed a concern for the formation of families. Instead of voicing disapproval of the legalization of same-sex marriage, Pope Francis instead focused on the younger generations’ increasing disinterest in beginning a family.
“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,” Pope Francis said. “Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.”
The pontiff concluded his remarks with praise of what he calls the American spirit.
“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," he said. "God bless America!”