Pope Francis Addresses Congress, Emphasizes the Roles of Both Charity and Wealth Creation in Helping the Poor

On the family he said, "I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without."

By Mitch Boersma Published on September 24, 2015

Drawing upon the themes of liberty, human dignity, family and the American dream, Pope Francis addressed Congress earlier this morning, singling out four late Americans for special praise.

The first Pope to address a joint meeting of Congress, Francis urged the congressmen to look to the example of Moses as a “synthesis” of their work as lawmakers:

On the one hand, the patriarch and the lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.

Francis framed his remarks as a “dialogue” with the American people, with a particular emphasis on the elderly with a “storehouse of wisdom forged by experience” and young people “who are not led astray by facile proposals, and who face difficult decisions, often a result of immaturity on the part of many adults.”

His remarks reflected upon the “dreams” of four historical American figures: Abraham Lincoln’s dream of liberty; Martin Luther King’s dream of “liberty in plurality and non-exclusion”; Dorothy Day’s dream of “social justice and the rights of persons”; and Thomas Merton’s dream of “the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.”

The Golden Rule and the Right to Life

He asked that America remember the Golden Rule, particularly as it relates to the protection of human life at every stage:

Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 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 Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.

He then pivoted to the death penalty, supporting the American bishops in their opposition to it: “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.”

He also urged a humane and loving attitude toward those who wished to immigrate to America. Recalling his own experience as a son of immigrants, Francis asked Americans “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.”

Charity, Wealth Creation and “The Spirit of Enterprise”

Francis acknowledged the role that the “spirit of enterprise,” business, and the creation of jobs play in bringing people around the world out of extreme poverty, and encouraged a renewed commitment to the fight against poverty and hunger on every front:

How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty! I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done, and that in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost. At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. 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.

It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (Laudato Si’, 129).

Returning to the theme of the family, which has made an appearance in one way or another at all his other speeches so far, Francis specifically addressed his concern that the fundamental relationships and “very basis of marriage” are being “threatened, perhaps as never before.”

I will end my visit to your country in Philadelphia, where I will take part in the World Meeting of Families. It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.

In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than getting bogged down in discussions. At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.


For the full text of Pope Francis’ historic address to Congress, click here

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