Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of Congress.

Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of Congress. Alessandra Tarantino / AP

Pope Francis, with His Address, Brings Immigration Back to Congress

The leader of the Catholic Church did not cede hot-button political issues in a Joint Meeting of Congress Thursday—he forced Congress to confront them.

There was a little something for every­one in Pope Fran­cis’s re­marks be­fore a Joint Meet­ing of Con­gress.

From im­mig­ra­tion to un­tangling private in­terests from the work of the gov­ern­ment, Fran­cis sought Thursday not to di­vide Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats, but to uni­fy them to carry out a more mor­al duty—something big­ger than the ar­gu­ment of the day.

“If polit­ics must truly be at the ser­vice of the hu­man per­son, it fol­lows that it can­not be a slave to the eco­nomy and fin­ance,” the pope said.

A son of im­mig­rants him­self, Fran­cis urged Con­gress to think more openly about its south­ern bor­der—a top­ic that has been hanging over the halls of Con­gress for dec­ades and has yet to be ad­dressed. After a sum­mer when Re­pub­lic­an front-run­ner Don­ald Trump gained steam with prom­ises of bor­der walls and mass de­port­a­tions, Fran­cis offered an­oth­er per­spect­ive; one that is not based on isol­a­tion.

“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, re­fer­ring to roughly 11 mil­lion im­mig­rants liv­ing in the shad­ows in the United States and the thou­sands more who pour across the bor­der. “We need to avoid a com­mon tempta­tion nowadays: to dis­card whatever proves trouble­some.”

He en­cour­aged mem­bers to think about im­mig­rants and the mil­lions of refugees pour­ing out of Syr­ia as be­ing no dif­fer­ent than they would think about them­selves. It is the “Golden Rule.”

Upon ut­ter­ing the words, mem­bers of the cham­ber rauc­ously stood and clapped. 

“In a word, if we want se­cur­ity, let us give se­cur­ity; if we want life, let us give life; if we want op­por­tun­it­ies, let us provide op­por­tun­it­ies,” he said. “The yard­stick we use for oth­ers will be the yard­stick which time will use for us.”

As the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion eyes in­creas­ing the num­ber of Syr­i­an refugees it ac­cepts in­to the United States, the pope asked mem­bers to open their hearts and re­main open­minded. Many in Con­gress—in­clud­ing Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate Ted Cruz—have warned al­low­ing more Syr­i­an refugees in­to the coun­try could in­crease the num­ber of ter­ror­ists in the United States.

“There is an­oth­er tempta­tion, which we must es­pe­cially guard against: the simplist­ic re­duc­tion­ism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the right­eous and sin­ners,” the pope told Con­gress. “The con­tem­por­ary world, with its open wounds which af­fect so many of our broth­ers and sis­ters, de­mands that we con­front every form of po­lar­iz­a­tion which would di­vide it in­to these two camps.”

The pope also—in a veiled al­lu­sion—con­grat­u­lated the Amer­ic­an dip­lo­mats who have made in­roads with Cuba and Ir­an “to help over­come his­tor­ic dif­fer­ences linked to pain­ful epis­odes of the past.” Those ne­go­ti­ations have been at­tacked by many on the right as be­ing ir­re­spons­ible but have pre­vi­ously been praised by Fran­cis, who was dir­ectly in­volved in the Cuba talks. He shook hands with Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry upon en­ter­ing the cham­ber on Thursday.  

“This has re­quired, and re­quires, cour­age and dar­ing, which is not the same as ir­re­spons­ib­il­ity,” the pope said. “A good polit­ic­al lead­er is one who, with the in­terests of all in mind, seizes the mo­ment in a spir­it of open­ness and prag­mat­ism. A good polit­ic­al lead­er al­ways opts to ini­ti­ate pro­cesses rather than pos­sess­ing spaces.”

From im­mig­ra­tion, the pope led dir­ectly in­to his de­sire to ab­ol­ish the death pen­alty. In what has be­come one of the more di­vis­ive is­sues in U.S. polit­ics, one that states have tackled in­stead of Con­gress, the pope asked mem­bers to con­sider the al­tern­at­ive: re­hab­il­it­a­tion.

“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,” he said.

The mere pres­ence of the pope in the con­gres­sion­al cham­ber marks a slow-com­ing, but his­tor­ic­al shift in the gov­ern­ment’s re­sponse to Cath­ol­ics. As re­cently as John F. Kennedy’s elec­tion to the White House, Cath­ol­ic faith was con­sidered a polit­ic­al li­ab­il­ity. Today, mem­bers came proud and ready to listen to the lead­er of the church. Some of his re­marks, however, are ex­pec­ted to shake up Wash­ing­ton.

To fight poverty, the pope said that “it goes without say­ing that part of this great ef­fort is the cre­ation and dis­tri­bu­tion of wealth.”

The fo­cus on re­dis­trib­ut­ing wealth is sure to stir dis­con­tent among Re­pub­lic­ans who have dis­missed that as a so­cial­ist prin­ciple.

The pope turned the mir­ror on the Con­gress it­self, a body that has of­ten found it­self sty­mied by po­lar­iz­a­tion, each side dug in so far that it has breezed past dead­lines and be­come in­flex­ible to re­spond to a crisis.

“A polit­ic­al so­ci­ety en­dures when it seeks, as a vo­ca­tion, to sat­is­fy com­mon needs by stim­u­lat­ing the growth of all its mem­bers, es­pe­cially those in situ­ations of great­er vul­ner­ab­il­ity or risk,” Fran­cis said. ”Le­gis­lat­ive activ­ity is al­ways based on care for the people. To this, you have been in­vited, called, and con­vened by those who elec­ted you.”

Even be­fore the pope’s ar­rival, Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats were look­ing for val­id­a­tion for their polit­ic­al po­s­i­tions by ar­guing their side had the pope with them on any­thing from cli­mate change for Demo­crats to abor­tion for Re­pub­lic­ans.

The pope’s ad­dress came just as Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers are ap­proach­ing a dead­line to fund the gov­ern­ment and some con­ser­vat­ive rank-and-file mem­bers are call­ing on lead­ers to de­fund Planned Par­ent­hood, a group that funds wo­men’s health care with the gov­ern­ment money, but also car­ries out abor­tions with oth­er funds. 

While it was not be the main fo­cus of his ad­dress, the pope still re­minded the audi­ence of his po­s­i­tion on abor­tion. Like many con­ser­vat­ives in the cham­ber, he is un­apo­lo­get­ic­ally anti-abor­tion.

“The Golden Rule also re­minds us of our re­spons­ib­il­ity to pro­tect and de­fend hu­man life at every stage of its de­vel­op­ment,” he told them. 

The pope also only briefly spoke about mar­riage, hint­ing at same-sex mar­riage.

“Fun­da­ment­al re­la­tion­ships are be­ing called in­to ques­tion, as is the very basis of mar­riage and the fam­ily. I can only re­it­er­ate the im­port­ance and, above all, the rich­ness and the beauty of fam­ily life,” he said.

The pope’s speech was al­most en­tirely filled with the most con­ten­tious polit­ic­al is­sues of the day. He dis­cour­aged law­makers from let­ting private busi­nesses in­flu­ence their pur­suit of le­gis­la­tion that does good. And, on the is­sue of cli­mate change, the pope con­fron­ted mem­bers and en­cour­aged them to take ac­tion. 

The White House has taken steps uni­lat­er­ally to cut down car­bon emis­sions of­ten at the be­moan­ing of con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans, but the pope re­minded Con­gress it should do more.

“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,” he said.

There are some po­s­i­tions es­poused by the pope that mem­bers of Con­gress have not even be­gun to ad­dress. Em­phas­iz­ing peace in the world, the pope asked mem­bers of Con­gress to ser­i­ously con­sider Amer­ica’s re­spons­ib­il­ity and role in es­cal­at­ing con­flicts. He poin­ted dir­ectly to the arms trade. 

“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 in­no­cent blood,” he said.

You can read the full pre­pared text of the pope’s re­marks here.