At the highly anticipated, historic joint session of Congress this morning, where Pope Francis delivered a powerful, assertive message to lawmakers, there were some notable absentees from the room. Particularly, only a few of the Supreme Court justices were present.
Catholic justices Sonia Sotomayor, John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy were present as was Jewish justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Absent were conservative justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, all of whom are Catholic. Also absent were Jewish justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer.
Speculation as to why so many justices were absent seems to be related to the knowledge that Pope Francis planned on delivering a mostly political message - that would likely make the Left slightly more happy than the Right. However, his address did have something for everyone.
The Pope called on Americans to allow for religious freedoms while at the same time rejecting religious extremism. He expressed his wishes that the United States end abortion as well as the death penalty. He also directed Americans to fight climate change, accept as many Syrian refugees as possible, use technology only for the common good and to redistribute wealth.
As far as a few highlights from the Pope’s powerful address, it is best to use the Pope’s words themselves.
With respect to political and religious extremism, Pope Francis stated that, “We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that 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 freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners.” Very powerful words.
With respect to the current refugee crisis, the Pope expressed that, “Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. 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.”
With respect to immigration, the Pope stated that, “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 descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected.”
With respect to the value of life, the Pope expressed that, “The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development. This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.”
While Congress is not going to abide by all of Pope Francis’ wishes and directives, it is important to note that this powerful, revered leader of Catholics will guide the majority of Catholics living in the United States, who represent almost 25% of the population. Depending on how Congress and President Obama responds, voters who have experienced a renewed faith in the Catholic church under the leadership of Pope Francis will surely take notice.