Pope Francis takes Congress to task in its own backyard

Pope Francis was not afraid to critique Congress in his historic address on Capitol Hill, calling on the body to do better in several areas of political debate.

In an approximately 40-minute speech, the pope commended positions supported by both parties. He nodded to the plight of immigrants and refugees, while also noting the sanctity of human life “at every stage of its development.”

And, like he did on Wednesday from the White House, he explicitly called on Congress to enact legislation that helps slow the effects of climate change.

“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,” Francis said. “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.”

The pontiff also dedicated a significant chunk of his address to the global migrant crisis, as debate over immigration rages in the US presidential election. He called on lawmakers to empathise with immigrants and global refugees and welcome both into the country.

“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 descendants from immigrants,” Pope Francis said, according to a transcript of his prepared remarks.

The pope got a huge applause line from congressional Republicans when he alluded to protecting and defending human life “at every stage of its development,” a line many observers took as a reference to abortion.

But Francis almost immediately pivoted to a lengthy discussion about the death penalty.

“The global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred,” Francis said. “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.”

The pope also reiterated his call for reducing income inequality.

“The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem,” Francis said. “It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth.”

Many high-profile government figures attended the address, which took place during Francis’ first trip to the US as pope. Four Supreme Court Justices sat in the front row on the House chamber, while several presidential candidates including retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) also attended.

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