I watched the livestream of Pope Francis’ address to Congress this morning and hope many of you did as well. You can read the text of his talk in its entirety here, and I encourage you to do so.
Many people will be parsing, summarizing and analyzing the speech and I do not plan to do so here. Let me just mention a couple of things that struck me.
First, the Pope picked named four Americans in our history who “shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the American people.” The four were Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. He identified these “sons and daughters of America as embodying four dreams: liberty (Lincoln), equality (King), social justice (Day) and capacity for dialogue and openness to growth (Merton).
A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.
I confess I was particularly thrilled with the inclusion of Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, both heroes of mine. My hope is that their mention by the Pope will create a broader interest in the lives, works and writing of both Day and Merton.
Second, there was a great emphasis on dialogue in Pope Francis’ address and a warning against the kind of divisiveness that has characterized American politics and encouragement of the renewal of a spirit of cooperation. He warned of the need to guard against the temptation of “the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners.” Rather, he suggested that “[t]he contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps.” Our goals should not be “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers: but rather to reject violence and hatred in favor of “hope and healing, of peace and justice.” The Pope’s words on dialogue, cooperation and avoidance of divisiveness are as important for each of us as they are for members of Congress.
There were a number of important issues mentioned by the Pope, such as capital punishment (he repeated his call for global abolition of the death penalty), the family (which he suggested is now “threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without”) the environment (he made reference to his recent Encyclical and our need to protect our home). If you missed the live coverage of the address, I encourage you to read it.