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First Papal Address to Congress

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During the papal visit, we'll be sharing commentary, photos, and on-the-scene accounts of Pope Francis' first trip to the United States. Stay tuned!

Thursday, Sept. 24
10 p.m.
The Holy Father's homily at St. Patrick's Cathedral was largely directed at his audience of priests and nuns, though, as always, his words are relevant to the whole Church in America.

He recalled the many great sacrifices and labors of the Church in the U.S., symbolized by the historic St. Patrick's Cathedral in which the prayer was held. The Holy Father focused his spiritual meditations around the themes of gratitude and hard work. He also addressed the sex abuse scandal, focusing on the "pain and difficulty" confronted by those clergy and religious who have continued to confront the fallout from actions of some of their brethren.

Pope Francis asked for the gathered clergy and religious to not stint in their renunciation and self-sacrifice for the proclamation of the Gospel, emphasizing how difficult it could become for the laity to hear the Good News when they are required by circumstance to live more austere lives than the clergy or the religious.


Again we see many of the key themes of Pope Francis' pontificate aimed at the American Church: poverty, self-sacrifice, and accompanying the least among us. We also see, again and again, expressions of gratitude on the part of the Holy Father for the many contributions the Church in the U.S. has made to the Holy See, to the universal Church, and to the world. It's worth noting that he focused on two non-Catholics and two Catholics who have not been declared Saints in his address to Congress earlier today, rather than speaking exclusively of some of the many canonized saints who have lived and worked in the U.S. He seems to be celebrating the whole spectrum of faithful Catholic life in the U.S., being as universal and as unifying as possible, while standing by those who are being targeted for their faith, like the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Tomorrow: the address to the UN General Assembly, the 9/11 memorial, and Mass at Madison Square Garden.

9:30 p.m.
Penn Station is as large as some airports. Wow. And New York is immense, overwhelming, though there are a number of strong similarities to European capitals and major cities, as well. A certain worn down look, interspersed with bright new buildings and businesses that a city actually lived in, a city full of people at work and at play, as well as at home, tends to have.

The New York Subway system nearly defeated me. I attempted to figure out the map; couldn't. Attempted to brave it with Google; ended up several stops further away from my destination than before. Finally, I stopped and asked for help, and eventually made my way to the vicinity of St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Emphasis on "vicinity."

I regret to say I did not see the Pope this evening, nor even get nearer than about a block of St. Patrick's Cathedral. The security operation for this papal visit continues to be intense, but though it may hold back some people from seeing the Pope, it certainly doesn't hold back their spirits.

People were literally hanging from the rafters in the scaffolding on some buildings within sight of St. Patrick's Cathedral. There were adventurous souls perched precariously on the fences and one or two atop bus stop shelters, all different races, all different nationalities. New York, it seemed, had come to see the Pope; Papa Francisco; Holy Father. All those names and more were intermittently called out, the crowd murmuring and restless at times, surprisingly peaceful at others. During one of the restive periods, they began chanting, "We want the Pope! We want the Pope!" I was gazing around me at old and young, families and friends, all of them there for this one man, and it struck me so forcibly I'm a little haunted by it now: These are sheep without a shepherd, a flock looking for someone to lead them. And then I thought of the One whom Francis serves, and I remembered what had happened so long ago when the people came in great crowds to see him and to hear his preaching, flocking to the Rabbi from Nazareth, calling out his many titles: Son of David! Messiah! King of the Jews!

And the last one hung over his head on the Cross that Friday at the Hour of Great Mercy, when he bowed his head and died.

And I wondered what it meant, these crowds, for they come for this one man ... or do they? Nobody was shouting the name of Bergoglio. They all knew the name of Francis, not the name that come before. No, they were not there for the man, but for the office, for the papacy.

I interviewed a woman named Gina from Brooklyn. She said that she was not Catholic, but she had come because she wanted to see the pope. When I asked why, she said, "Because he's for everyone," making a little gesture as though to encompass the whole wide world.

He's for everyone. The pope, whoever the man may be that has taken up the office, is for everyone. He is the Vicar of Christ on earth, the representative of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. He is Peter, the Rock on which the universal Church is built, and he is for everyone. Just as each diocese includes all within its boundaries, Catholic and non-Catholic; just as every parish priest has some measure of responsibility for every soul in his parish, whether they ever darken the church door or not; just as Christ died for all, redeemed us all, opened the door to heaven for us all, if only we say yes to the Divine Mercy and enter, the Holy Father is the Holy Father of us all.

He is for everyone, and they, on some level, know it. And so they come to see the Pope, a man following his Master, a man laying down his life for the sheep.

Thanks be to God!

3 p.m.
Well, I'm on the train to New York City. I hope to visit St. Patrick's Cathedral tonight and perhaps get a glimpse of the prayer to be held there this evening.

I know I've commented on it before, but I'll say it again: The whole city of Washington, D.C., seemed marked by the papal visit this week, whether it be through the pilgrims to be spotted around seemingly every corner in their t-shirts, habits, or clerics; whether it be through the many street vendors attempting to convince passersby that their hearts were longing for the latest in papal memorabilia; whether it be through the massive crowds (and consequent massive security) where the crowds gathered near the Holy Father; or whether it was nothing more than the sense that something was about the happen, something about the change, as this man in white made his visit and spoke to the greatest and the least of the city.

He had his classic stops to greet children as he traveled along his way, and he had many of his characteristic themes displayed in the speeches and homilies so far. But Pope Francis still seems like a new thing under the sun to many people, and not just those media figures who weren't paying attention to previous popes or who simply never understood them, and so think that anything striking that Pope Francis does must be the first time any pope had ever done such a thing.

He was called the "people's pope" by a number of people waiting along that papal parade route the other day, and in the national capital of one of the great modern democracies, that phrase means a lot. Perhaps that's why such large crowds have greeted him and Congress welcomed him, as well as the President and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). And he has become a figure of incredible hope. Some of that hope is realistic, founded in the grace of God, the truth of Catholicism, and the power of love. Some of that hope is ill-founded, looking for impossible changes in doctrine or unrealistic changes in discipline. But no matter what, the essential reason for the newness, the hope surrounding Pope Francis comes from his willingness to just do his job in love, as Br. Joe put it yesterday: to be the Vicar of Christ. To proclaim Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, to the nations. To present to the world the face of the Father's mercy, and so proclaim the good news of the Gospel to all the ends of the earth.

1 p.m.
As you might expect, the Holy Father seemed more at home amongst the homeless than he had amongst the leaders of the nation in the Capitol.

He told the assembled homeless that their faces reminded him of a face much beloved by the present Holy Father: the face of St. Joseph. The foster father of Jesus also knew homelessness, also knew what it was to wander and wonder what on earth God was thinking. The Holy Father said that it was not right that there was anyone without a home, and that we should ask questions about that situation. We should ask why there are any of our brothers and sisters without a roof over their heads.

Then he called his audience to prayer, saying, "In prayer, there are no rich and poor people, there are sons and daughters, sisters and brothers. In prayer, there is no first or second class, there is brotherhood."

11:10 a.m.
The Holy Father is waving to the crowds from the Capitol balcony. He greets the crowd in Spanish. A translator does an instant translation.

"I am so grateful for your presence here. The most important ones here: children. I will ask God to bless them. Lord, Father of all, bless these, bless each of them. Bless the families. Bless them all. And I ask you all please to pray for me, and if there are among you any who do not believe or cannot pray, I ask you please to send good wishes my way."

Then, in English, "Thank you very much, and God bless America."

The crowd went wild.

11:05 a.m.
Pope Francis paused for a moment of silence before the statue of the newly-canonized Junipero Serra, standing in the Capitol Rotunda. There had been some controversy over the presence of the statue. California's delegation was looking into having it removed and replaced with a statue honoring the astronaut Sally Ride. But those efforts were put on hold in light of the papal visit and planned canonization. Time will tell whether a statue of the newest Saint of the Catholic Church continues to find a home beneath the Capitol Rotunda.

The crowd outside the Capitol awaits the Holy Father's balcony appearance.

11:00 a.m.
And there you have it. The papal speech to Congress was a model of Catholic balance, of the emphasis upon both subsidiarity and solidarity, upon the full scope and scale of the social doctrine of the Catholic Church. (If you want the in-depth overview of Catholic social teaching, see the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church.) Many of the Holy Father's persistent themes emerged:

* care for the vulnerable; unity in society;
* a "culture of care" for the excluded and neglected, which he has said includes "our common home," the environment;
* the sanctity of human life;
* the importance of the family as the basis of a healthy and flourishing society;
* and so much more.

10:55 a.m.
He's calling for a determined effort to end the many conflicts around the world, challenging why arms are reaching the people who inflict pain on others. "Sadly, as we all know, the answer is money, money drenched in blood. ... It is our duty to confront the problem and stop armed strife."

Again, his speech is focused around four Americans: Abraham Lincoln; Martin Luther King; Dorothy Day; Thomas Merton.

Now, he's referencing the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. "How essential the family has been in building this country!" Extended applause. "And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement. And yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened within and without. Fundamental relations have been called into question" which are the basis of the family. He can only reiterate the beauty and the richness of family life.

"In particular, I would like to call attention to the family members that are most vulnerable: the young."

He's speaking of the challenges facing the young and the importance of seeking solutions for these challenges. He's highlighting the inability of many young people to start a family.

A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty like Lincoln, when it enables people to dream dreams like Rev. King, when it cares for its neighbors like Dorothy Day, when it pursues dialog like Thomas Merton.

He's celebrating America as a country which has enabled so many people to dream.

10:45 a.m.
We must not let people just be numbers. We must look at their faces and hear their stories. Again, his themes of encounter, of going to the margins, of meeting the poor and the vulnerable.

He starts to quote "Do unto others, as you ... " and then he's interrupted by a standing ovation.

"This rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion that we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities that we seek for ourselves. Let us help others as we would like to be helped ourselves."

Step back for a moment and appreciate this. The Holy Father is presenting the Congress, the Cabinet, and the Supreme Court with the Golden Rule as a model for policy making, and they're giving him huge ovations. He's reproposing a principle at the heart of the Law and the Prophets, reiterated in the Gospel, and they're going nuts for it.

Here we have the point that every life is sacred. And he's reiterating the call of the Catholic bishops of the U.S. for the end of the death penalty. He's calling for the prioritization of rehabilitation in punishment.

He's reiterating a lot of the points of Pope Benedict XVI about the challenges facing modern civilization: right use of technology, etc.

"Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth ... it can be a fruitful source of prosperity ... especially if it seeks the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good."

Now the teaching from Laudato Si' (On Care for the Common Home), calling for action to make a difference in our impact on the environment. Sustained applause for that one. "I have no doubt the United States and this Congress have an important role to play."

He's calling for a "culture of care." He's proceeding to speak of the need to "limit our power."

Now he's speaking of Thomas Merton, situating him in his historical context, born at the time of WWI. He's quoting Merton's spiritual memoir, The Seven Storey Mountain.

"Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker ... he was also a man of dialog, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions. From this perspective of dialog, I would like to recognize the efforts made in recent months to help overcome historic differences linked to painful episodes of the past. It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women in any way possible to do the same. When countries who have been at odds resume the path of dialog, a path which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate reasons, new opportunities open up for all." He got emphatic there, and the crowd responded. That last section was probably his reference to the new opening between the U.S. and Cuba.

10:30 a.m.
He's emphasizing the importance of unity, inveighing against polarization. Pope Francis' point about the problem of dividing humanity into the good and the evil reminds me of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's famous quote:

"The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart."

He's talking about the issue of unjust structures, saying they even afflict the developed world. Again, we get the call to solidarity and subsidiarity, both concern for the common good and for the balanced decentralization of responsibility and authority. This is a speech given from the heart of the Church, not from the left or the right.

He's calling for respect for differences of opinion and convictions of conscience between peoples. He then proceeds to speak of the need to hear the voice of faith, which brings out the best in people.

He's asking his audience to be willing to compromise, to seek the common good above all, saying he knows how hard it can be, but encourages them to pursue it.

He's citing that we are 50 years from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s campaign for civil liberties for African Americans, saying, "The dream continues to inspire us all." He asks that America continue to be a land of dreams.

He's citing Dorothy Day, foundress of the Catholic Worker movement.

The possibility of global solidarity "must not be lost."

"Keep in mind all the people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty."

10:20 a.m.
He namechecks Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton.

Pope Francis specifically mentioned it's the 150th anniversary of assasination of Abraham Lincoln, the guardian of liberty, who labored tirelessly that this nation under God have a new birth of freedom. But a future of freedom requires love of the common good. Pope Francis specifically called for both subsidiarity and solidarity, evoking the balance of Catholic social doctrine, not the divisive strife of modern American politics.

Pope Francis discusses the problems with fundamentalism and extremism, calling for a respect for freedom.

There's the line on immigration: "The people of this continent are not afraid of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are descendants of immigrants."

He's being interrupted for applause often throughout.

Now we get the acknowledgement of the violations of the rights of the Native Americans. "Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but we know that this is very difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appears 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."

He's calling for an attitude of "reciprocal subsidiarity." He said we are "facing a refugee crisis of proportions not seen since the Second World War."

10:15 a.m.
As could be expected, the Holy Father is emphasizing the duty of politicians and politics to prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable, the most needy of the society, as they seek to serve the common good. Moses is taken as the model lawgiver in this address. An interesting choice: Images of Moses adorn both the Capitol and the Supreme Court building. It appeared that he even pointed toward one of those images when he mentioned Moses. [Update: Yes, according to the Vatican, the image of Moses directly faces the person standing at that podium.]

Pope Francis is taking the same tack he took with the bishops: treating the assembled leaders as representative of the entire American people, so his words aren't just meant for the immediate audience. Rather, he's speaking to the U.S.A. He's speaking to all of us.

He's paying special attention to the elderly and the young; again, a consistent move throughout his pontificate. He has often discussed the challenges facing the elderly in the "throw-away" society he sees encroaching on the world, and the challenges facing youth in a society with far too few jobs.

10:10 a.m.
He's following the example of St. John Paul II in speaking of himself as a son of the same continent. The Church has tended to look at the entire New World as "America," as evidenced in the document Ecclesia in America (The Church in America).

10:05 a.m.
There's much hilarity amongst the assembled journalists at the official introduction of the Holy Father. "The Pope of the Holy See."

10 a.m.
Man, official Washington's pretty much all present for the Holy Father's speech. This speech is going to be heard by a number of the most powerful and influential people in the world, let alone the country. Talk about a study in contrasts: The Holy Father is known for his preference for the company of the least among us. I wonder what he's thinking now? Let's pray for him.

O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fountain of Mercy for us, I trust in You!

Our Lady, the Immaculate Conception, pray for Pope Francis.
Saint Peter, pray for Pope Francis.
Saint Francis of Assisi, pray for Pope Francis.
Saint Junipero Serra, pray for Pope Francis.

9:45 a.m.
The dignitaries are arriving. Vice President Biden is present. The Joint Meeting is in session. The members of the "escort committee," representing a broad swathe of states and both parties, appear to be sent off to escort in the Holy Father. The dean of the diplomatic corps (the longest serving diplomat from a foreign country in the U.S. at present) Roble Olhaye, Ambassador of the Republic of Djibouti, was announced, followed by the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court John Roberts, and the President's Cabinet.

9:30 a.m.
Speaker of the House John Boehner is awaiting the Holy Father rather nervously. He has welcomed the Holy Father to the Capitol. Recall that he was the one to make the invitation to the Holy Father to address Congress in the first place. A cradle Catholic, the Speaker addressed the graduating class at CUA in 2011, at the same Basilica where the first papal Mass was offered yesterday.

The Speaker and the Holy Father will have some time to talk before the Holy Father addresses both Houses of Congress.

9 a.m.
Well, the Holy Father will address Congress soon, though with the way he's taking time to go and shake hands with all the pilgrims, students, and others waiting to greet him outside the nunciature, Congress will just have to wait. Immense crowds have gathered outside the Capitol building, whose dome is covered in scaffolding.

The Marian novices are on their way to Philadelphia to take part in the World Meeting of Families, along with some of the Marian Fathers who are already there.

I'm just learning now that Pope Francis made an unscheduled stop yesterday. Many Catholic outlets were commenting on the contrast between the President's remarks in support of religious liberty yesterday at the White House and the conduct of his administration toward Catholic organizations, particularly in the court case against the Little Sisters of the Poor. The sisters had filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration, seeking protection from the HHS mandate requiring organizations providing health insurance to also cover contraception on the grounds of religious liberty (Actually, the women religious in the lead photo for our first day's coverage were members of that order.)

Well, yesterday, the Holy Father made an unscheduled stop at the convent of the Little Sisters of the Poor in Washington, D.C., in what the papal spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, is calling "a sign, obviously, of support for them."

The Holy Father was obviously well prepared for this visit.

CUA continues to recover from an immense and joyful event. Father Mark Baron last night repeatedly expressed how special it was that his Marian brothers had been able to participate in the first papal Mass ever to be held at CUA. More than that: The first papal Mass at CUA was the canonization of one of the first great evangelizers of the New World. Talk about the bishops' university paying tribute to someone who made the Church in America a reality!

Also, Serra had a deep Marian devotion, consecrating his missionary work to Our Lady of Guadalupe, foreshadowing the papal consecration of the New Evangelization to her care some centuries later. In light of that, the Marian call to the Marian Helpers to make their total consecration to Jesus through Mary on Dec. 8, 2015, the start of the Jubilee Year, seems right in line with the Pope's thinking.

Visit here for all papal visit coverage.

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