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In Speech On The Hill, Pope's Remarks To Congress Send A Message (Or 3)


Pope Francis received a welcome on Capitol Hill this morning that would usually be reserved for the president. Ladies and gentlemen, the pope of the Holy See were the words that were spoken, and the Pope went ahead and spoke before a joint meeting of Congress. He is, of course, the leader of the Catholic Church, a major figure in the world. He stressed the need for politicians to work together to solve problems.


He had many other messages, and NPR's Don Gonyea joins us now with more on that speech. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: Politics weighed heavily over this speech whether the Pope wanted it to or not. He did dive into some controversial issues in America.

GONYEA: Yes, and he is famously a Jesuit, and he did it in what has been described as a very Jesuit way. He puts his arms around you. He praises you. He talks about this being the land of the free and the home of the brave, which was his first big applause line. There were many of them. But then, here are maybe some things you should be working on in that, again, very gentle way. Let's start with one. We're going to hear a clip, but this one is about immigration. Let's give a listen.


POPE FRANCIS: We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners because most of us...


FRANCIS: ...Because most of us were once foreigners.

GONYEA: We are not fearful of foreigners because most of us were once foreigners. Again, you heard mild applause there - you couldn't really tell, probably, coming more from the Democratic side. He probably gave more to Democrats than he did Republicans, but he did talk about abortion and said we must defend life at every stage but followed it with a call to abolish the death penalty.

MONTAGNE: The death penalty.

GONYEA: Talked about income inequality, certainly an important issue to the White House and the Democrats. He talked about climate change. He, of course, has embraced the science on climate change. And he talked about marriage. He talked about the institution being threatened from the inside and from the outside - didn't get much more specific than that. But again, recognized it as an issue that we need to address today.

MONTAGNE: And how would you, Don, characterize the reception in the hall?

GONYEA: As we heard the applause there, it was polite. The largest applause line he got was when he cited the golden rule. Do unto others - the applause built and built and built - didn't even let him finish it. And then finally he did finish it. So, but it was very warm. Interesting - right behind him were the Speaker of the House John Boehner and the Vice President of the United States Joe Biden, both Catholics, both obviously from different places on the political spectrum. But man, they were clearly in the same place today in how honored they both felt and the respect they were showing. And you could see it in their faces as they watched the pope.

MONTAGNE: In return, the pope was respectful of America and American history - spoke of four important figures.

GONYEA: He did. He spoke of Lincoln, of course, assassinated 150 years ago - spoke to liberty. He cited Martin Luther King, equality, but then, lesser-known to most, people, Dorothy Day, a Catholic activist who fought at the beginning of the 20th century until her death in late in the 20th century for equality - and then the philosopher monk, Thomas Merton. Again, those are two who are both heroes to liberal Catholics.

MONTAGNE: Don, thanks very much.

GONYEA: Pleasure.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Don Gonyea on Pope Francis's speech to Congress which just ended minutes ago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
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