Pope Francis Addresses Congress: Highlights Include Refugee Crisis, Immigration, Arms Trade, Death Penalty, and More

Pope Francis speaks to Congress

Pleas from the Pope. The leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, addressed Congress in a historic joint session in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Sept. 24. “I am most grateful for the invitation to address this joint session of Congress,” the Pope said in his opening statement. “In the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

The Pope then launched into a lengthy speech in which he addressed global issues, including the arms trade, the death penalty, and even the “Golden Rule.” Here, Us Weekly rounds up the 10 highlights from his address to Congress.

1. On Congress’ Responsibility and Burden

“Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation. 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… 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. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called, and convened by those who elected you.”

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2. On America’s Responsibility and Burden

“Today I would like not only to address you, but through you the entire people of the United States. Here, together with their representatives, I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and — one step at a time — to build a better life for their families. These are men and women who are not concerned simply with paying their taxes, but in their own quiet way sustain the life of society. They generate solidarity by their actions, and they create organizations which offer a helping hand to those most in need.”

Speaker of the House John Boehner speaks with Pope Francis
Speaker of the House John Boehner speaks with Pope Francis in the U.S. Capitol building before the Pontiff speaks to a joint meeting of Congress September 24, 2015 in Washington, DC. Bill Clark-Pool/Getty Images

3. On Four Great Americans

The Pope named four great Americans and their impact on shaping the landscape of the country: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton. “My visit takes place at a time when men and women of good will are marking the anniversaries of several great Americans… They shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the American people,” he said. “This year marks the 150th anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the guardian of liberty, who labored tirelessly that ‘this nation, under God, [might] have a new birth of freedom.’ Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.”

4. On Violence, Conflict, and Atrocities — And How to Address Hate

“Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hate and brutal atrocities committed even in the name of the Lord and religion. We know that no religion is immune from delusion.. This means we must especially be attentive to every type of fundamentalist. Whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence.”

The Pope offered up a solution. “Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice. We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises,” he said. “We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.”

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5. On Cooperation Between Religious and Political Organizations

“In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society. Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.”

6. On Immigrants and Building Dreams

“I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of dreams. Dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment. Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people. In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, 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. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present.”

The religious leader, who was born in Argentina then received a standing ovation from Congress when he said the following words:

“Many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation… When the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our ‘neighbors’ and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.”

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7. On the Refugee Crisis

“Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this… 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 on this continent two thousands persons travel north in search of a better life… in search of greater opportunity. It is not what we want for our own children.”

8. On the Golden Rule

“Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ (Matthew 7:12). This Rule points us in a clear direction. 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. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. 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. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.”

The Pope arrives at Congress meeting
Pope Francis arrives to speak to a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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9. On the Death Penalty

“This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the 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. Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.”

10. On Abolishing Deadly Weapons

“Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. Here we have to 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 innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.”

Pope Francis standing ovation
Pope Francis addresses a joint session of Congress on September 24, 2014 in Washington, DC. PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

Us Weekly’s Commemorative Special Edition, Pope Francis: His Journey to America — featuring full-color photos, an inside look at the Vatican, and a history of popes in America — is on newsstands now. Watch our 25 Things You Don’t Know About the Pope above!

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