In his historic address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, Pope Francis called America “a land of dreams”, which he said can lead the world in a shift to deep, inclusive politics and economics that brings people together, eliminates harm, and guarantees dignity and reciprocity.
Pope Francis has come to the United States with a very clear and universal message: there are injustices no free and conscientious people can accept and against which all people of good will should work together. Challenges like climate change, immigration and income inequality are not ideological issues, partisan issues or issues of opinion or preference; they are deep moral issues. And we must do our best to work in solidarity, to oppose these unnecessary injustices.
During his address at the White House, on Wednesday, Pope Francis explained his view that “Climate change is a problem we can no longer leave to future generations.” His Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’: On caring for our common home outlined in great and poetic detail the many connections between religious respect for Creation, the Earth’s life-support systems, and the ethical obligation to a practice of integral ecology.
His message has been, consistently, that we cannot make ideological, cultural, political or economic excuses for our ethical and moral failings. Where there is good to be done, we should be good. In a meeting with one of his emissaries, a few months ago, Pope Francis’ call for all governments to use integral ecology as the guiding principle for all policy was reframed as “a very simple standard”: You can be good, or you can behave in a way that degrades the world; why would you not just be good?
Yesterday, Pope Francis addressed a joint session of the United States Congress. He is the first Pope to do so. He opened his address by saying: “I am grateful for this opportunity to address this joint session of Congress, in the land of the free and the home of the brave.” It was a way of answering a welcome with a welcome, letting political officials who might feel defensive about their policy positions know he was there to speak to everyone, not to criticize inaction or ideology.
For this, the Pope received a standing ovation. He went on to frame the work of his audience, the US Congress, in terms of civic duty and moral heroism, saying unreservedly:
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.
He added that “A political society endures, when it seeks as obligation to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk.” He said the members of Congress have been “called” to this mission by those who elected them.