WASHINGTON, Sept. 24 (UPI) — Pope Francis spoke about the need to address climate change and income equality Thursday when he became the first pontiff to address a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress.
Francis addressed Senators and Representatives at the meeting presided by Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner and Vice President Joe Biden, who are both Catholic. The pope arrived in his now-famed Fiat 500L and was greeted by Boehner within the U.S. Capitol, where a crowd of thousands gathered on the building’s west lawn.
“I am most grateful for your invitation to address this joint session of Congress in the land of the free and the home of the brave,” Francis told the audience, to roaring applause and a standing ovation.
Francis said he believes he was invited to Congress because he was also born on “this great continent” and said the most important “personal and social responsibility” politicians have is to the good of their constituents.
The pope made references to income inequality, talking of men and women who do an honest days’ work “to bring home the daily bread and, one step at a time, to build a better life for their families.”
“These are men and woman who are not concerned simply with paying their taxes, but in their own quiet way — sustain the life of society,” Francis said.
The pope warned against fundamentalism, whether religious or “any other kind.” He said a delicate balance was needed to safeguard religious and individual freedoms while fighting against fundamentalism.
The pontiff said political polarization must be confronted, which can cause divisions that harm instead of help.
“Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice. We ask to assume the courage and intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economy crises,” Francis said. “Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs and maintaining commitments and thus promoting the well-being of individuals.”
“Hereto, I think of the march which Martin Luther King led from Selma to Montgomery 50 years ago as part of the campaign to fulfill his dream of full civil and political rights for African-Americans,” Francis continued. “That dreams continues to inspire us all and I am happy that America continues to be for many a land of dreams.”
He said people of this continent do not fear foreigners, as “most of us were once foreigners.”
“I say this to you, as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descendants of immigrants,” Francis said. “Tragically the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected, for those peoples and their nations… I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation,” also adding that it is “very difficult to judge the past with the criteria of the present.
“We must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past,” the pope said.
The pope referenced the current migrant crisis occurring in the Middle East and Europe, also speaking on the way migrants from Central and South America travel to United States for better opportunities.
“We must not be taken aback by the numbers, but rather see them as persons … to respond in a way that is only humane and fraternal,” Francis said.
“Let us remember the golden rule: ‘Do unto others as you will have them do unto you.’ 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 give to other sthe same possibilities with which we seek for ourselves.
“If we want security, let us give security. If we want life, let us give life. If we want opportunity, let us provide opportunity.”
The pope also urged for the “protection of human life at every stage of in its development,” adding that he encourages his “conviction” of the global abolition of the death penalty.
In reference to climate change, the pope said we “we need a conversation which includes everyone since the environmental challenge we are undergoing and it’s human roots concerns and affects us all.
“I call … to redirect our steps and avert the most heinous effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity, “Francis said. “I am convinced that we can make a difference, I’m sure of it,” adding that the U.S. government plays an important role against climate change.
The pope also hailed recent efforts in diplomacy, referencing the recent reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States and the tentative peace agreement between Columbia and the FARC rebel group.
The historic address by the pope has been cause for controversy, as many politicians and presidential candidates in the Republican party have either condemned or distanced themselves from Francis over some views he holds considered liberal.
Ahead of arriving to the United States, Francis rejected assertions he’s a “leftist” liberal while answering journalists’ questions. The pope said calling him a liberal would be a “mistake of interpretation.”
The pope is against abortion and same-sex marriage, aligning with conservative ideology. On the issues of climate change, immigration and income inequality, Francis aligns with liberal views.
When welcomed to the White House by President Barack Obama on Wednesday, the pope used his speech to speak of climate change.
“Climate change is a problem that can no longer be left for a future generation,” Francis said on-stage in the White House’s south lawn in front of thousands, also praising Obama for “proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution.”
Francis’ views and comments, including his encyclical on climate change released in June, have led some conservatives to denounce the pope.
Republican Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar said he will boycott Francis’ speech in Congress because of the pope’s expected comments on climate change, also accusing the pope of acting like a “leftist politician.”
Francis also commented on the capitalist economic model, as he has done many times previously, at his White House address and in other stops during his Washington, D.C., tour. He believes capitalism has the potential to “overlook” the poor while also damaging the Earth by creating pollution in a highly competitive economy.
Republican presidential candidate Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Catholic, said the pope is “infallible” on theological matters, but not economic issues.
“In theological matters … I believe when he pronounces himself from the chair of Peter … he is infallible in those decisions, in those issues. That does not extend to political issues like the economy,” Rubio said Tuesday on Fox News.
“On economic issues, the pope is a person,” Rubio added.