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The Pope and the U.S. Congress

If, like me, you spend a lot of time with the cable TV news channels, you overdosed on the Pope last week. Whatever else of note happened during the eight days of Francis's visit to North America, it was not reported in these venues.

He had not reached the halfway point of his trip, when it began to feel like overkill. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Enough, already. I got it.

But with a little distance now from the hoopla, it occurs to me that the most important thing Francis said is entirely contained in the second paragraph of his first speech, the extraordinarily expansive address to the joint session of Congress.

After his greeting to that gathering of all the American lawmakers, he defined their job (perhaps in case some in attendance have forgotten):

”Each son and daughter of a given country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility," he noted. "Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation.

“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.”

Everything else he said is commentary on that job definition and I have been wondering since then, in regard to his followup list of the many terrible issues of “the disturbing social and political situation of the world today,” if any in Congress are even a little bit shamed at their neglect of the common good.

The Pope admonished Congress about the money that has overtaken the American political system:

“If politics must truly be at the service of the human person,” he said, “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 good, its interests, its social life.”

Following on, the Pope had something pertinent to say about terrorism, middle eastern refugees, America's immigrants, the death penalty, poverty, wealth inequality, war, climate change and, for us at this blog, elders too.

Below, are some short excerpts on each of these topics from the Pope's speech to Congress. As you go through them, recall what this and past Congresses have - and in particular, have not - said or done to address these urgent problems.

On terrorism:

”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 and ideological extremism.”

Refugees and immigrants:

”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...

“...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.”

On poverty, wealth and its relationship to war:

“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.”

And

“It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right to use 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...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.”

And

“[We must be] truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. Here we must 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 I innocent blood.”

The Pope visited a prison on Sunday. In the address to Congress, he had urged

”...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.”

On climate change, he said that the common good he repeatedly referenced “includes the earth...our common home.” And then he quoted from his May 2015 Encyclical Letter about the environment titled, Laudato Si':

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

“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...”

I understand that Pope Francis's address to Congress and his other speeches are inspirational in nature. But they are deadly serious yet I cannot recall when either the Senate or House of Representatives last spoke of these problems with anything but a glancing phrase now and then.

There are many things about which I disagree with the Pope. But his discussion and enumeration of these grave issues is more than Congress has done by magnitudes.

Essentially, Congress has abdicated the job they were each elected to, the job that Pope Francis defined so well at the top of his speech: “the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics.”

If that does not change, I believe we – humanity, that is – are doomed due to climate change alone. If I am wrong about that (or not) and the current political climate in Congress is permitted to continue, our way of life is as equally doomed.

Maybe you have to be Catholic to maintain the kind of expectation the Pope evinced. But in fact, although I am nominally Jewish, I practice no faith.

With that, however, I recognize that the Francis's influence carries – or can carry - beyond the 1.2 billion Catholics of the world. I would like to believe that the many days of Pope Francis in America will change the political behavior of enough people in power to make a difference.

As I said, though, I doubt it. More likely, all his fine words, counsel and urgings have already faded from the minds of those who were elected "to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good."

It is worth reading Pope Francis's entire address to Congress. You will find it here.


Comments

It must also be noted that the Pope supposedly met with Kim Davis, the Kentucky County Clerk who refused to issue same sex marriage licenses. And while not coming out in direct support of her, he did say that everybody has the right to be a "Conscientious Objector". He refrained from making (publically) his views on the subject. I guess that's about as close as we are going to get to a Papal endorsement.

Thank you for this fine collection of the Pope's remarks/speeches. I was wrapped up in the Papal visit as so many were, and I, like you, practice no religion.
At the same time, I noted on the early news this morning that - despite Francis's effort to stop the legalized killing of Kelly Renee Gissendaner in Georgia last night - the execution was carried out. The man who actually did the killing is in prison and will be eligible for parole in 2022.

So much for the power of the Pope.

I, too, found myself caught up at times, in the excitement of the Pope's visit, His willingness to spend time with people on the margins and his gentle, but determined calls to Congress and others regarding their responsibilities of working for the common good were inspiring and aroused hope that finally someone would be able to get through to the powers-that-be. Even John Boehner seemed to have been affected. Just three days later, in light of the news that Pope Francis may have met secretly with Kim Davis, and that his pleas on behalf of the now executed woman in Georgia were ineffectual,, that hope is beginning to fade.

Cathy Johnson said it first, but I'll put it in my own words: No wonder John Boehner quit. He was probably horrified at the sudden clarity of thought, as reflected in the Pope's perspective.

Thanks for the wrap up. I am a Philadelphia native and live in the western suburbs now - and I can tell you - so many of us here were very affected by the entire week of activities - including his 2 days in this area. But for me - his appeal for working together for the common good is what most aroused me. I'm not new to this idea and have long been frustrated by the current behavior of many politicians in general - and Congress in particular. Now that the 2016 election cycle is all around us - I plan to hold my hold my Congressional representatives feet to the fire. The past 8 years in particular have been so dismaying to me. I'm truly disgusted with the behaviors, lies, exaggerations, manipulations, mud-slinging, finger-pointing - and don't even get me started on the major media! What is most appalling to me is how easily these groups pander to the lowest and most vicious side of human behavior to gain popularity, a vote, or ratings.

Although I have also been impressed and inspired by this Pope, I am surprised that no one has questioned the idea of the Pope speaking to our congress. What happened to the separation of church and state.? Am also startled to read in NYT that he met with Kim Davis.

It is refreshing to that we have a world leader who is talking about the common good of all humanity and challenging us to make that commitment in our actions. Thank you for your thoughtful post.

I was as disinterested in the pope's visit as I would have been with that of any other visiting dignitary. And I've little doubt his platitudes to Congress fell on mostly deaf ears. "Love God and be kind to everyone" just won't fly in Congress. (And to those who enjoyed his visit, I apologize for my cynicism.)

Count me in as one who practices no religion, but I note that the so called Christian members of Congress who claim to be so devout are in fact, not practicing their religion in a different manner.

Unfortunately, the radical members of Congress are trying to ease their guilt about denying climate change, support of the death penalty, etc. by claiming the Pope has no right to speak about secular problems and should only to speak about religious concerns. They just don't get it. If they follow the teaching of Jesus they should know that every concern the Pope spoke of is based on the words of Christ.

They just don't want to be lectured and will go on their merry way destroying our society. At the same time they have the gall to insert their own brand of (non) religion into politics.

I like your descriptive "nominally Jewish"; in adulthood my religious affiliation has become "fallen Presbyterian".

Sad to say, I agree with your assessment of the future of humanity. Prior to our damaged environment doing us in, I can't help by try to make sense of what our government has evolved into by trying to affix a label to it: Is it becoming purely an oligarchy, or something even more sinister?

I assume only time will tell.

I'm totally non-religious--in fact, in my view extremist religion in any form is one of the scourges of humankind. Wars and other acts of extreme violence and injustice have been and continue to be perpetrated in the name of "god"--all parties claiming that theirs is the one-and-only "true" god.

However, the Pope's message to the U.S. Congress was clear and comes down to the Golden Rule, which some members appear to have completely abandoned or perhaps never accepted at all. I'm not optimistic that far-right Republicans, in particular, got the Pope's message. I continue to be perplexed and disgusted by their professed "reverence" for life, as they simultaneously advocate for policies both foreign and domestic that result in widespread death and suffering.

I agree with Darlene's observation. Meg W. also had a good question: what happened to separation of church and state? It seems that the line between the two becomes more blurred every day. There are those in Congress who would replace democracy with theocracy. But. . .wait a minute. That's what ISIS is, right?

At this time, the US Constitution, the mix of federal and state powers, sets us up for a partisanship that runs over concerns about the common good. Both parties are served, in their turn, by carving out arenas in which the system gives them advantages (GOP -- smaller states; Dems -- cities, large states) and answers to the demands of partisans that can give them that power.

Now I think the GOP is bat-shit crazy, but feeding the politics of ignorance, misogyny and racial resentment gets them a lot of Congressional seats and state houses. Dems should be able to win the national elections and at present are more concerned to keep the whole mess afloat. But short term thinking is rewarded.

Not sure if we can get out of it, but have to try.

I was born and raised in a Roman Catholic family, but practice no religion.

I was amazed at the seemingly strong welcome given to His Holiness Pope Francis by U.S. citizens who are not Catholic and I must attribute it to his open and friendly personality, especially toward the economically disadvantaged living in a supposedly rich nation. His lack of fear while facing large crowds of people was refreshing as was his message to our politicians that they were elected and/or appointed to protect and to serve ALL the people in our nation, not just the wealthy people, seemed to strike a chord within our secular society. Pope Francis has lived among the poor and the disadvantaged and knows firsthand how hard they have worked to try to obtain a better life for their children and their children's children.

Unfortunately the pope's message is already being downplayed and denigrated by the very politicians at whom the words were aimed.

Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama, while both devout and wise men, have little or no influence on our politicians who have sold their votes to the highest bidders rather than using their votes to better the plight of the average citizen.

It will take a bloody revolution to change our country back to one in which "liberty and justice for all' will prevail.. And it will probably not take place during my lifetime.

Meg W. : the Pope is a head of state, the Vatican State, as well as head of the Roman Catholic Church. That position makes his address to Congress, futile as it may have been, appropriate.

When I learned of his visit to,, and seeming approval of, Kim Davis, I felt he had gone from exhalted to demeaned in my estimation.

Maybe I'm just a negativeistic synic, but I don't believe there's any force on eartth, including the Pope, that can inspire conservatives to care a whit abouttheir fellow humans. It's all about getting re-elected and filling their campaign coffers. Forget what Jesus, Mohammad and the Budda taught about humility, love and caring for the vulnerable.

I am a Unitarian Universalist, not Christian, yet I find in the Pope's speech many reasons to hope for a shift, however gradual, in our politics and politicians. One could not expect a sudden reversal in the behavior of Congress, as rapid change rarely sticks. But the Pope's presence and his powerful, loving words, may have seeped into the minds and hearts of members of Congress as they have in so many others, and who can say how the presence of his ideas will manifest? It seems most useful to me to remain cautiously optimistic, while continuing to do what I can in my own life to encourage the changes Pope Francis advocates.

I think the one thing good that came out of the Pope's visit is that he brought to the forefront something that I, and many Americans have been thinking about for a while. We need to be more compassionate towards those who are poor and downtrodden. And, while it's OK to be rich, the accumulation of wealth should not be the be- all and end-all of our existence. I always thought that us baby boomers, as we grew older, would become more in tune with the plight of the less fortunate. It appears that we turned out as petty and greedy as our parents.

Unfortunately, I think the secret meeting with Kim Davis ruined the perfection of the Pope's visit.

It took away credence from his upfront and open and honest confrontations of issues. Before this information about Kim Davis was "pulled" from the vatican ----everyone held him up as an example of integrity ---

"You can trust this pope"

That was tarnished.

I so agree with Victoria and others about the Pope and his meeting with Kim Davis. I was very disappointed in the Pope who up until then, I felt hopeful for humanity. I feel the fact that it was done in secret further tarnished his reputation. The Pope and most Catholics are enlightened about evolution, the 13+ billion year age of the universe and science in general, but they still fall short on equality in marriage regardless of gender and women's rights. And the Republicans aren't stupid. They know exactly how to play to the ignorant, gullible and those lacking any ability to critically think. We are, I'm afraid, in serious trouble.

Does anyone have any answer as to WHY he chose to speak privately with her? I searched my brainiac resources and came up with none that are worthwhile. I haven't been a practicing christian for most of my life, well, I guess since I could reason and then choose for myself.

And this serene man was compelling with his passionate opinions and could have drawn some people to a more humane state of mind, or at the least, they might question themselves and consider his ideas. He was eloquently moving and I liked especially that he didn't go on about the poor state of many, but focused on the need for change in attitudes and life choices - for one's own good! - as well for those with needs.

As a generational Episcopalian, I was brought up to believe (and hopefully practice) in the Brotherhood of Man. Not exactly a winning concept these days. Watching the Pope I was moved to tears by his wholehearted embrace and blessing of many I honestly do not think I could approach.
Do I agree with him on all things? Not really buT I don't really agree completely with many people on all things.
As to our Government, shame, shame, shame! There is NO One without feet of clay! If only we could enact term limits I do think it would improve things. BUT...who in Congress would vote for it or let it come into being? Self centered politicians without any thought but their own gain is mostly what we are stuck with! Sort of glad I'm not going to be around too much longer--our beautiful country is disappearing fast,

Follow up to readers who feel the Pope's meeting with Kim Davis somehow taints everything else he did and said: as it turned out, she was just one of many who were ushered into the Pope's presence for a quick hello and blessing.

On Friday, the Vatican released this statement about the matter:

“The pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis, and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects,' the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said in a statement released on Friday morning."'

You can read more at The New York Times.

I think Kim Davis's notoriety negated the possibility of her being "just one of many" who were ushered into the Pope's presence--

she is a lightning rod and has now been given the blessing of the Pope to be strong and defy -- She is now untouchable.

Surprisingly, she was one of 24 people invited by the Vatican officials in Wash, DC - not necessarily by the Pope - and there's a cynical side of me that sees politics and influence involved. I mean, WHY was she one of 24?

To me, it changes nothing with regard to the Pope's valuable message, but reflects worn and predictable political shenanigans - some folks wanted this to be, for their reasons/gain.....and it was done so with influence and power.

Maybe Kim was chosen because whoever made out the list of 24 felt she should be exposed to someone who preaches and practices tolerance? There's no denying his sincerity and he certainly knows how to talk to regular people. What we do have proof of is his apparent love of children and animals. Hope that parrot was safely harnessed! .

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