In his historic speech before Congress today, Pope Francis invoked his own family’s immigrant history and called on Americans to not “turn their back[s]” on immigrants, saying they travel in “search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones.”
“In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom,” the Pontiff told the historic gathering of lawmakers, with tens of thousands of spectators watching outside.
“We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants.”
As Suzanne Gamboa noted, the Pope spoke passionately about immigrants in the same House chamber where comprehensive immigration reform died a swift death last Congress at the hands of Speaker Boehner and Republican leaders:
Several of the members and government officials jumped to their feet for the first time in the pontiff’s historical speech Thursday when the pope told the members “most of us were once foreigners.”
The pope, the first in history to speak to Congress, raised the plight of Syrian refugees washing ashore in Europe and racing across borders, saying it is a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since World War II. In that context he said this continent also is seeing thousands of people travel north in search of better lives for themselves and loved ones.
“Is this not what we want for our own children?” he asked to some applause. “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. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal.”
His words come two years after Congress pushed to the back burner partisan immigration legislation which included ways to address the presence of 11 million people who have ventured into the U.S. illegally or remained here in violation of their visas. For months, a vociferous campaign has been waged in the 2016 Republican election primary to harden the country’s polices on immigrants illegally in the U.S., from GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s proposal to deport all of them, to several candidates’ espousal of policies to deny immigrants the opportunity to become citizens.
The pope’s plea for greater charity toward immigrants came with his usually soft tone of an adviser trying to stir the chamber to a greater cause. Their work, Pope Francis told the lawmakers, is ensconced in the mission of Moses. “You are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face,” he said.
His entreaty carried with it a reminder that “most of us were once foreigners,” a commentary that seemed to touch Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, a son of Cuban refugees who smiled and wiped beneath his left eye at that moment.
Though he was one of the architects of the Senate bipartisan immigration bill, Rubio, a presidential candidate, has abandoned touting that bill and recently said any debate on whether to provide a legal status to immigrants wouldn’t begin for at least another decade should he be elected president.
Soon after uttering the “golden rule,” the pontiff once again had members in the chamber on their feet. The rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” “points us in a clear direction,” the pope said.
“We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome.”
“The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us,” said the pontiff.
— CNN (@CNN) September 24, 2015
In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our “neighbors” and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.
Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north 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. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12).