Francis to Congress, to the rest of the world
POPE FRANCIS delivered last Thursday a historic message before a joint session of the US Congress and, by extension, to the rest of the world. From his 3,300-word address, we have freely culled some 950 words that we share here for Sunday reading:
• SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY: Each son or daughter of a country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility. Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation. You are the face of its people, their representatives. You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. 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. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.
• RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISM: All of us are aware of, and deeply worried by, the disturbing social and political situation of the world (which) is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. No religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. We must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious, intellectual and individual freedoms.
• REDUCTIONISM: There is another temptation that we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds affecting many, demands that we confront every form of polarization that would divide it. In the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice. We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises.
• IMMIGRATION: Millions came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. 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. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible.
• REFUGEE CRISIS: Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? 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.
• POVERTY: Keep in mind all those people who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. Poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in the causes. 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 seeking to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. Business, directed to producing wealth and improving the world, can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area where it operates, especially if it sees creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.
• THE ENVIRONMENT: This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical (Laudato Si’) that I recently wrote to “enter into dialogue with all people about our common home”. The environmental challenge and its human roots concern and affect us all. In Laudato Si’, 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.
• ARMED CONFLICT: Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end armed conflicts throughout our world. Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer is simply for money — money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and stop the arms trade.
• THE FAMILY: 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. Most vulnerable (are) the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a maze of violence, abuse and despair. We need to face (the problems) together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions.