In Speech to Congress, Pope Francis Urges Action on Immigration, Climate

Paul Singer, USA Today, September 24, 2015

In the first-ever papal address to a joint meeting of Congress, Pope Francis on Thursday called on Americans to embrace immigrants from Latin America and around the world.

“Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the second World War,” the pope said, including “thousands of persons (who) are led to 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,” Francis said in a 45-minute speech. “To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome.”

Speaking slowly in English before a packed House chamber including the assembled members of Congress and hundreds of dignitaries and reporters, the Argentine pope said, “We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us once were foreigners.”

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He then stepped onto a balcony of the capitol and gave a brief blessing to a huge crowd gathered on the lawn who had heard the speech via video. Speaking in Spanish, the pope asked the crowd to pray for him, and invited non-believers to “send good wishes my way.” Boehner, who has said he has dreamed of this moment for two decades, stood beside the pope and pulled a handkerchief from his jacket pocket to wipe away his tears.

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Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama, sitting next to Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, brightened when he mentioned the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march 50 years ago. Sewell, who is from Selma, and Lewis, one of the African-American marchers beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge at the start of the march, nodded and smiled. As the pope lauded Dr. Martin Luther King’s “dream of full civil and political rights for African-Americans,” Sewell and others patted Lewis on the back, and Lewis put his hand over his heart.

“That dream continues to inspire us all,” Pope Francis said.

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