WASHINGTON, Sept. 24, 2015 - In a history-making address to Congress, Pope Francis called on lawmakers to put their focus on the “common good” in welcoming immigrants, fighting hunger and poverty and addressing climate change.

Francis, the first pope to speak to Congress, avoided getting into policy details and instead laid out an overarching approach to public service and what he sees as the major challenges of the time. During the 50-minute speech, which was interrupted by applause more than 30 times, he made six references to serving the "common good,” a cornerstone of Catholic social teaching.

Laying out his vision for public service, Francis compared lawmakers to Moses. Like the Old Testament prophet, the pope told the lawmakers, “You are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.”

“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,” the Argentine pope said, speaking in halting English.

Economic policy, he said, must serve the needs of people and lift up the poor. “If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance."

While progress has been made in addressing poverty, he said, “the fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was among the Cabinet members who attended the speech, as was EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, who had to be pleased with the pope's environmental message. 

While much of the speech addressed priority issues for Democrats, there were messages conservatives wanted to hear, too, including thinly veiled references to abortion and the culture wars over marriage and the family.

The Golden Rule, Francis said, “reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of .. development.” Republicans jumped up and applauded at the line, and Democrats quickly joined them. The pope closed his remarks by raising concerns about the family and making what appeared to be a reference to the same-sex marriage. “Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family," he said. 

The pope also appeared to allude to the debate about religious freedom, a vital issue for Catholic and other Christian aid groups and institutions. “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,” he said. 

But the pope devoted far more of his time to making an especially forceful case for welcoming Latin American immigrants, saying that they had  traveled north in search of a better life for themselves and their children. “Is this not what we want for our own children?” he asked.

“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," he said. He read the Golden Rule from the gospel of Matthew - drawing an ovation - and cited it as the basis of how immigrants should be treated. “Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves.” 

He didn’t mention the word “climate” in his address, but there was little doubt he had climate change in mind in citing his recent encyclical “Laudato Si,” in a plea to lawmakers to address the "most serious effects of environmental deterioration caused by human activity."

“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,” he went on. 

The pope didn’t address the Obama administration’s proposals for reducing greenhouse emissions, but he called for the use of technology to address the problem. 

Universities and research institutions can make a ‘vital contribution in the years ahead," he said. And, quoting Laudato Si, he said technology should be put to “the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral.”

He concluded his address by simply saying, "God bless America!" 

House Speaker John Boehner, a Catholic who was singularly responsible for getting the pope to appear, at times appeared overcome with emotion. He wiped away tears as he stood next to the pope when he appeared on the Capitol’s West Front following the address to Congress. 

“The Holy Father’s visit is surely a blessing for all of us. With great blessings, of course, come great responsibility,” Boehner said. “Let us all go forth with gratitude and reflect on how we can better serve one another.”

Republicans and Democrats praised the tone of the papal address as well as the message. However, some lawmakers said they struggled during the address to understand his words. Unlike reporters, they were not given prepared texts to follow.

“While we may not always agree on the right approach, I truly believe that we can all work together — across party lines and across faiths — to ensure the challenges we face are met head on,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa. Missouri GOP Sen. Roy Blunt’s takeaway: “Congress should always remember that what we do here is more important than who we are.”

Sen. Jim Imhofe, R-Okla., was pleased that the pope didn’t refer to climate change specifically. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said he didn’t think the Golden Rule could be used to “justify violating a nation’s immigration laws. I don’t think that he meant that.”

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said Congress should heed the pope’s words and pass comprehensive immigration reform and raise the federal minimum wage. 

The pope “called for Congress to move beyond our partisan divides in dealing with the critical issues of the day: climate change, immigration and providing for the least among us,” she said.

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