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September 24, 2015
Column #1,778
Pope Francis Storms Washington
By Mike McManus

On the White House grounds, in front of a crowd of 11,000 including half of Congress, Pope Francis began by saying, "As the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country which was largely built by such families." (His parents were Italian immigrants to Argentina.)

A Washington State visitor, Adriana Cazoria, commented, "We want the pope to know that 11 million undocumented people are being treated like criminals in the country."

The Pope praised the President's "initiative for reducing air pollution" and asserted "climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation. When it comes to the care of our `common home' we still have time to make changes needed."

He called on Americans to support international efforts "to protect the vulnerable in our world and to stimulate inclusive models of development so that our brothers and sisters everywhere may know the blessings of peace and prosperity." His remarks pleased the President, if not Congressional Republicans.

However, he also delivered a firm defense of traditional values, warning that the institution of marriage and family needed protection at "a critical moment in the history of civilization." He made no mention of same-sex marriage.

The President thanked Pope Francis for his "invaluable support of our new beginning with the Cuban people."

In his first visit to America, he traveled in a tiny Fiat and an open popemobile to massive, cheering largely Hispanic crowds, many of whom waited hours for a glimpse of the man in white. While his rhetoric in Washington was most pleasing to Democrats, he made an unscheduled visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor, who sued the Obama Administration to fight its mandate to give abortion-causing pills to the poor.

Francis addressed 300 "brother" bishops, praising their "courage" in handling the church's sex abuse scandals, "without fear of self-criticism and at the cost of mortification and great sacrifice."

That stunned Dennis Coday, editor of the National Catholic Reporter, which exposed sexual abuse by priests. He said the pope's comments would prompt victims to conclude, "He just doesn't get it."

Later he celebrated his first U.S. Mass and canonized an 18th-century Spanish missionary, Junipero Serra, for creating a network of missions in California, the first Hispanic saint with American ties. He quoted Serra's favorite motto, "Siempre adelante!" or "Always move forward." The pope later paused before a statue of Serra in the U.S Capitol.

No pope had ever addressed a joint session of Congress. Francis began with a remarkable tribute to the importance of politics as a calling from God: "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 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."

He gestured to a plaque honoring Moses as a model for all law-makers: "The figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being." He reminded them of their central task, "You are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face."

Never had Congress, 31% of whom are Catholic, ever heard such a lofty accolade of the importance of politics.

The longest applause was sparked by the pope's reiteration for the rights of all persons, regardless of age, stage of development or disability: "The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development."

He passionately embraced immigration, asserting, "We of this continent are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants."

The pope also spoke about the importance of the family, explaining that his attendance at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia was the key reason for his U.S. visit. "How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement!" sparking another loud standing ovation.

"Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family."

This saintly man offered a penetrating and uplifting vision for America.

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