Friends, we’ve just witnessed history on multiple levels. This was the first time a pope has ever addressed the United States Congress – an historical first. But perhaps more poignant was Francis’ usage of our own history in calling us forward to share in his vision for the world.
Pope Francis drew on four figures from American history: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton. Each offers strong, personal examples of the standards that Pope Francis calls us to meet. Each has an historical role in promoting liberty, plurality, social justice, and dialogue. In drawing these connections, Pope Francis is calling the United States not to find or develop new qualities, but to rediscover and reemphasize the best of what our history has to offer.
Immigration was, as predicted, a huge theme. Again, Francis turned to American history in making his point. “We Americans1 aren’t afraid of foreigners because most of us were once foreigners.” Reminding ourselves that most of us, including Francis himself, are the descendents of immigrants, the Pope invites us to recognize that we share this story of migration with all those who continue to seek a better life in a new country. He put this simply and beautifully in saying, “I am happy that for many America continues to be a land of dreams.” Francis reminds us of our best selves so that we can be our best selves.
The final point from this morning that truly moved me was actually after his official speech, and hearkened back not to U.S. history but to his own. As he stepped out onto the Speaker’s balcony accompanied by many of the Catholic members of Congress and addressed the thousands of people below, I remembered seeing him walk onto a different balcony. In both instances, I found myself struck by Pope Francis’ humility, sincerity and request for prayers2 from all of those assembled.
There is, of course, much much more that could, should, and will be said about Pope Francis’ visit to Congress. Share your own reactions in a comment below!