Pope talks politics in Washington DC

By Wole Oyebade (With agency report)   |   25 September 2015   |   4:00 am  
Pope Francis flanked by President Barack Obama and the latter’s wife, Michelle, on the South Lawn of the White House during the Pope’s visit to Washington, United States (U.S.) PHOTO: REUTERS

Pope Francis flanked by President Barack Obama and the latter’s wife, Michelle, on the South Lawn of the White House during the Pope’s visit to Washington,<br />United States (U.S.) PHOTO: REUTERS

POPE Francis immediately dove into the whirlpool of United States (U.S.) politics on Wednesday, using his first direct address to the nation to weigh in on deeply divisive issues, including climate change, Cuba and traditional marriage as he was greeted by exuberant crowd in the streets of Washington.

The Pontiff lived up to his reputation for blunt talk at a welcoming ceremony at the White House, introducing himself as the son of the kind of “immigrant family” on which America was built – a clear reference to the controversy swirling around millions of undocumented people in the country.

Some hours later at the U.S. Congress yesterday, Pope Francis urged the United States not to turn its back on undocumented immigrants, to reject the victimisation of religious and ethnic minorities, to overcome income inequality and to save the planet from climate change, citing Scripture and the nation’s founding ideals.

Speaking in English, the Argentine-born Francis also said he was ready to listen to the “hopes and dreams of the American people” and to offer guidance to those charged with shaping the nation’s political future “in fidelity to its founding principles.”

And in comments that could antagonise Republicans, Francis endorsed President Barack Obama’s efforts on climate change and rebuilding ties with Cuba after more than half a century of estrangement.

Wednesday, which began with pomp and politics and ended with a controversial canonisation, was the Pope’s first full day in the United States. The six-day visit will take him later this week to New York where he will address the United Nations (UN), and Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families, a large Catholic event that is expected to draw nearly a million pilgrims to Papal Masses.

He told President Obama: “It is encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution. Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem that can no longer be left to a future generation

“When it comes to the care of our ‘common home’, we are living at a critical moment of history.”

Francis is using the global platform offered by his first-ever visit to the United States to emphasise the theme at the centre of his two-year-old Papacy: challenges like climate change, income inequality and the plight of immigrants are moral – not political — issues. And, he said, the richest most developed countries have an obligation to act.

“I would like all men and women of goodwill in this great nation to support the efforts of the international community to protect the vulnerable in our world and to stimulate integral and inclusive models of development,” Francis said, in comments that reflect what he sees as a more inclusive vision of capitalism.

While some of these themes were sure to please the left, he also delivered a firm defence of traditional values, warning that the institution of marriage and family needed to be protected at “a critical moment in the history of our civilisation.” Those remarks could irk liberals months after the Supreme Court ruled in favour of same-sex marriage nationwide.

He said it was right that society was “tolerant and inclusive” but warned that American Catholics were “concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty. That freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions.”

I would like all men and women of goodwill in this great nation to support the efforts of the international community to protect the vulnerable in our world and to stimulate integral and inclusive models of development.

Obama gently – but pointedly – argued that “here in the United States, we cherish religious liberty.”

Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama earlier greeted the Pope at the White House as he stepped out of his small black Fiat, which he is using to make a statement of humility in Washington, a city full of limos and hulking government SUVs. In another nod to Francis’ pared down style, the White House dispensed with the 21-gun salute to which he is entitled as the titular head of the Vatican state.

Obama paid warm tribute to the Pope as an individual as well as the leader of 70 million U.S. Catholics, saying he displayed “unique qualities” of a leader “whose moral authority comes not just through words but also through deeds.”

The President warmly welcomed the Pontiff’s support on climate change and Cuba despite the White House saying Obama wouldn’t use the visit to build domestic political support for these issues.

“Holy Father, we are grateful for your invaluable support of our new beginning with the Cuban people, which holds out the promise of better relations between our countries, greater co-operation across our hemisphere, and a better life for the Cuban people,” Obama said.

President Obama, who met the Pope for one-on-one talks in the Oval Office, presented his guest with a sculpture of an ascending dove made from metal taken from the Statue of Liberty and wood which once grew in the White House garden.

Francis also took time to minister to the hurting U.S. Catholic Church, meeting bishops at The Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington and offering counsel at a time of great upheaval among his American flock, which has thinned partly because of child sexual abuse scandals.

“I know how much the wounds of these last few years have weighed on your spirit, and I have supported your generous commitment to bring healing to victims – in the knowledge that in healing, we too are healed – and to work to ensure that such crimes will never be repeated,” Francis said.

The Pope’s visit brought Washington to a halt. Massive crowd greeted the pontiff as he emerged from the White House complex, standing five or six deep on sidewalks. Several times, his vehicle, a converted white Jeep Wrangler, slowed so the Pope could bless a small child handed to him by a security agent.

In front of and behind the Popemobile, police motorcyclists and black armored Secret Service vehicles fanned out – evidence of a massive security operation being mounted during the Pope’s visit.

He took to the streets again as he headed to a mass to canonise 18th Century Hispanic missionary Junipero Serra who is said to have taken Christianity to California but who is controversial because he is reputed to have treated Native Americans poorly.

Some people had been waiting to see the Pope for hours. At St. Matthew’s, for instance, 58-year-old Dolores Reyes was beaming as she wore a T-shirt with the inscription: “Caminando con el Papá Francisco” – Walking with Pope Francis.

“He seems different”, “He is more humble, more connected with people, with everyone. He is a great Pope. I love his approach”, she said.

Earlier, outside the White House, Adriana Cazorla, from Washington State, listened intently as Pope Francis spoke on the big screen and applauded when he said he was a son of immigrants.

“We want the pope to know that 11 million undocumented people are being treated like criminals in this country,” Cazorla said before Francis made his remarks.

Francis, who then swapped the corridors of power for a humble lunch with homeless people on Thursday, also asked lawmakers to wage a constant battle against poverty and to ensure the wealth of the world is equitably shared and used to create jobs.

Francis, who is on a six-day U.S. visit and is the first-ever Pontiff to address a joint meeting of Congress, was watched not only by a packed chamber of lawmakers but also thousands of people who gathered outside the Capitol to follow the speech on big screens erected on the National Mall.

He later appeared on the Speaker’s balcony, saying “Buenos Dias” and making brief remarks in Spanish before blessing the crowd below.

The Pope, who was greeted by cheers as he stepped onto the floor of the House of Representatives, did not scold lawmakers, as his tough words on political topics at the White House Wednesday suggested he might. Instead, speaking in English rather than his native Spanish, he delivered a speech that evoked a sermon or even a pep talk.

Using the podium of the House as a pulpit, he repeatedly couched the most politically divisive issues in U.S. public life in the context of the lessons of the Bible and the example of American heroes, including Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, to encourage his audience to live up to the country’s highest ideals.

Holy Father, we are grateful for your invaluable support of our new beginning with the Cuban people, which holds out the promise of better relations between our countries, greater co-operation across our hemisphere, and a better life for the Cuban people



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