A speech to Congress and a prayer for the homeless — Thursday, Sept. 24
WASHINGTON — Following his historic speech to Congress, Pope Francis jumped from the halls of power to the halls of the people at St. Patrick's Church, where he met with the poor and the homeless.
In contrast to his stoic nods to members of Congress, the pope worked the crowd of Catholic Charities clients like a rock star shaking hands, taking photos, smiling and mingling. The fray began after his brief grace: "Bon apetito," he said with a smile.
He was to have lunch with the hundreds of clients. But the meals were left on the table as they swarmed around the pope.
He prayed to find shelter for the homeless in a brief service at the church earlier and noted that Jesus was born homeless.
His message of love and mercy for the downtrodden was repeated earlier in his address to Congress when he called on the American people to not turn a blind eye to the plight of refugees and immigrants.
"Most of us were foreigners once," he said to applause.
These newcomers want the same for their own families as Americans do: A better future, he said.
"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. 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 pontiff invoked the Golden Rule, which is among the hallmarks of Christian values, telling Congress to treat others as they would wish to be treated.
Francis pressed the issue of immigration and resettlement several times in his one-hour speech and noted how thousands in Central America travel north in search of a better life.
"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 called the current refugee crisis in Eastern Europe, as Syrians pour into Turkey, Serbia and Croatia to escape the civil war and look for economic opportunities, the worst since World War II.
Saying all lives are sacred, even those of criminals, he called to abolish the death penalty.
He said that all human life should be protected and defended at every stage of development, one of two references to abortion during his speech. He also celebrated the work of Dorothy Day, an activist who had an abortion as a young woman but who later advocated for the poor and working classes.
Francis announced earlier this month that rank-and-file priests would be able to grant absolution to women who've had an abortion.
Speaking about the environment, he urged Congress to combat climate change, which he says is caused by human activity.
"I'm convinced that we can make a difference ... I have no doubt that the United States and this Congress have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous action."
He urged Congress to help Americans pull themselves out of the cycle of poverty, but to do it in a way that is environmentally sustainable and that uses the best of technology.
A lack of a clear future coupled with violence and abuse are preventing younger Americans from starting families — an institution along with marriage that Francis says is threatened. This was his lone reference to gay marriage.