Pope Francis visited the United States for a six day trip for the first time since 2013, preceding his papal election. While he was in Washington, D.C. for his address to Congress, Environmental Studies and Catholic Campus Ministry groups from Roanoke College sent 40 students, 2 faculty members, and 1 alumni to the capitol.
The day started with an environmental rally on the National Mall that featured a multitude of speakers. A religious convocation including a rabbi, reverends, a monk, and a priest opened the Moral Action on Climate Justice Rally.
Other speakers included Jay Winter Nightwolf, of the Lakota tribe, who spoke about the idea of making decisions based on the effect they will have on the next seven generations. Kumi Naidoo, the Executive Director of Greenpeace, also spoke and pleaded for the government to listen to the voices of ordinary people and said, “The planet doesn’t need saving, we will be gone [if we continue mistreating the planet], not the planet.”
Trip Van Noppen, the president of Earth Justice spoke about the shared commitment and dependence to Earth that everyone has and asked everyone to join together to answer Pope Francis’ call for a bigger movement against climate change.
There were scientists represented as well, with Alden Meyer, the Director of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who declared that “No country is immune or without blame,” regarding climate change.
After a full morning of speakers, Pope Francis began his address to Congress, which was broadcast on two large screens on the mall. He began by requesting that Congress “preserve the dignity of [its] fellow citizens,” and reminding it that the elected leaders are the face of their people. He said that “Each son or daughter has a mission, a personal, and a social responsibility. Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation.”
He went on to address all of America, not just Congress. Pope Francis spoke about his goals and the goals that he believes the American country should have through focusing on four American historical figures. The four he chose to talk about were Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton.
“Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God. Four representatives of the American people.”
He cautioned against fundamentalism, and wanted people to focus efforts at restoring hope and righting wrongs. Pope Francis also made it clear that people should keep an open mind as they look at decisions people make since, “it is very difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present.”
The address ended with the Pope praising family and highlighting how essential it has been to the building of the United States, as well as challenging the U.S. to defend the liberty and dream of equal rights for all men.
Once the address was over, Pope Francis came out on a veranda of the Capitol Building to address the crowd outside of the building and the rally, making a special note that the children were some of the most important people at the events.
After DC, Pope Francis traveled to New York City and Philadelphia to meet with the United Nations General Assembly and participate in the World Meeting of Families.