by Judy Ferro
Pope Francis’s address to Congress was nothing like the quotes my friends share on Facebook.
“Today we have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.”
Belief in “trickle down theories… expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those possessing economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”
Nor did the Pope, as he had last December, ask the United States to join in fighting to free the 35 million men, women and children held in slavery as captive laborers, soldiers, sex slaves, etc.
Even the Pope’s crusade to get nations to cooperate in fighting global warming received only a brief, subdued reference. It didn’t get fierier than “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.”
Really, that hardly merited the self-aggrandizing boycott of Arizona Representative Paul Gosar, who criticized the Pope for not limiting his concern to proper religious issues like abortion, homosexuality and religious freedom.
Yet, I wasn’t disappointed.
What the Pope did speak of was the values that created the American dream and our continuing efforts to keep that dream alive. He reminded Americans that our best was indeed great and that, in our hearts we know what is right.
He honored members of Congress saying they are called “to defend and preserve the dignity of [their] fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good…”
He honored the memories of four Americans who fought for their values—Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day founder of a Catholic organization for social justice, and Catholic theologian Thomas Merton. They “shared fundamental values which endure forever in the spirit of the American people. A people with this spirit can live through many crises, tensions, and conflicts while always finding the resources to move forward and to do so with dignity.”
Francis asked that we avoid recasting every conflict as good versus evil, but instead renew “that spirit of cooperation which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States.”
He honored business as “a noble vocation directed to producing wealth and improving the world.”
The Pope did touch on political issues, but with a light touch and a focus on values.
He asked that we not be overwhelmed by the number of immigrants, but instead treat each individual as we would want to be treated.
“In a word, if we want security, let us give security. If we want life, let us give life. If we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.”
He endorsed the Catholic bishops’ call for an end to the death penalty. “…A just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.”
He asked that we continue to help those trapped in a cycle of poverty and to alleviate environmental damage. “We have the freedom needed…to devise intelligent ways of developing and limiting our power, and to put technology at the service of another type of progress, one which is more human, more social, more integral.”
He asked that we support families, especially the children.
And he asked for a decrease in the export of weapons. (Wikipedia reports that the United States and Russia export more weapons than the next twelve largest exporters combined.)
The spirit of the Pope’s address could not have contrasted more starkly with the rhetoric of the presidential campaign circuit. I like to imagine some candidates are thinking, “I wish I’d said that.”