Pope Francis visited the United States last week in a historic two-week trip. The Pope spent time with the poor, the disabled, immigrants, prisoners and the victims of Church sex abuse scandals. Pope Francis’ journey took him first to Cuba, then to Washington D.C., New York City and finally Philadelphia. Along the way, while drawing large and adoring crowds, he met with President Barack Obama, visited Ground Zero, toured a school in East Harlem and addressed Congress and the United Nations. Although the Pope tries to remain apolitical, his speeches obviously have political influence. The Pope advocated for certain issues in speeches for Congress and the UN, then offered guidance on handling said issues. Key points were immigration, climate change, the death penalty and economics.
During his time speaking to Congress, Pope Francis spoke about immigration, saying the U.S. was a nation built by foreigners and that foreigners shouldn’t be demonized. He asked the members of Congress and the American people to remember that “thousands of persons are led to travel north [into the U.S.] in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation.” Pope Francis emphasized living by the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Pope Francis also spoke out against the death penalty, advocating for a “global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.”
Pope Francis’ message is that the ideals of Catholicism, namely forgiveness, must be extended to all members of society. Pope Francis also called attention to the diminishing middle class and the growing levels of poverty in America. “At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.”
He reiterated this point in his speech to the UN, where he stated that “economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment. The poorest are those who suffer most from such offenses, for three serious reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off of what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing ‘culture of waste.’”
Perhaps his most controversial points of discussion were those involving climate change. Pope Francis spoke of a need for what he calls a “common home.” Pope Francis urged discussion on the issue of climate change, saying that everyone should be involved, since it affects everybody.
Pope Francis’ call to action and acknowledgment that climate change is real and has man-made roots is unfortunately not a view held by a decent amount of politicians in Congress. These sentiments were echoed in a speech he gave to the UN, where he outlined people’s “right to the environment.” It is Pope Francis’ belief that since humans are part of the environment, we must acknowledge that humans can and do harm the environment, and that human beings must respect it.
While the Pope is not and should not be a politician, he will obviously impact the political climate of the United States and the world. As head of the Catholic Church and the Holy See, his opinions can and do matter, and they carry a lot of weight. By and large, Pope Francis has stood with those of a progressive nature for the past two weeks. He affirmed his commitment to combat climate change, preached for tolerance and acceptance of foreigners and spoke out against the death penalty. While it would be incorrect to try to pigeonhole the Pope into one ideology or worse, one political party, Pope Francis supported and advocated for some progressive policies during his time in the United States.