WASHINGTON – During the first full day of his visit here, Pope Francis repeated his call for action to combat climate change and for measures to assist immigrants coming to the U.S. in search of a better life.
Tomorrow the Pontiff speaks to a joint session of Congress, facing representatives and senators diametrically opposed to many of his views.
This morning, speaking from a White House porch to a huge, ecstatic, cheering crowd, Francis did not mince words in his rebuke of deniers of climate change. He said that the warming planet “demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition” of what awaits today’s children in the future.
He was also blunt in criticizing those who are seeking to marginalize and demonize immigrants. The Pope introduced himself as the son of the kind of “immigrant family” on which America was built. He said, the richest, most developed countries have an obligation “to protect the vulnerable in our world.”
Furthermore, Francis urged the U.S. to continue rebuilding its ties with Cuba.
Standing at Francis’ side, President Obama said, “Holy Father, we are grateful for your invaluable support of our new beginning with the Cuban people, which holds out the promise of better relations between our countries, greater cooperation across our hemisphere, and a better life for the Cuban people.”
Obama said the Pope has displayed “unique qualities” of a leader “whose moral authority comes not just through words but also through deeds.”
After a 40 minute private meeting with the president, Francis climbed into the Popemobile, a white Jeep with open sides and a high, protective plexiglas arch under which he stands. He was driven at a very slow pace to his next stop so that he could acknowledge the crowd of some 25,000 people who thronged the sidewalks, many calling out “Papa! Papa!” He often stopped to bless small children handed to him by a security agent.
A five year old girl, Sofi Cruz, was stopped by security guards when she broke through the crowd trying to reach the Pope, but he insisted she be let through. She had traveled to Washington with group from Los Angeles, Hermandad Mexicana Transnacional, an immigrant advocacy group based in Los Angeles.
Sofi handed Francis a note, which, according to The Guardian newspaper, said in part: “Pope Francis, I want to tell you that my heart is sad and I would like to ask you to speak with the president and the congress in legalizing my parents because every day I am scared that one day they will take them away from me.
“I believe I have the right to live with my parents. I have the right to be happy. My dad works very hard in a factory galvanizing pieces of metal.
“All immigrants just like my dad need this country. They deserve to live with dignity.”
At the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Francis canonized Junipero Serra, an 18th century missionary. It was the first ever canonization to take place on U.S. soil. Some Catholic activists had criticized the canonization, saying that Serra had treated Native Americans brutally. Vatican spokespersons insisted that the Pope’s action was meant to demonstrate the long history of Hispanics in the U.S.
Speaking to a group of bishops at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, Pope Francis addressed church leaders who have been vociferous in their opposition to marriage equality, gay rights, women’s right to choose, and to other movements of inclusion. He said, “harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor,” and he encouraged the bishops to speak with anyone, no matter their views.
He added that church leaders should “focus less on defending church teaching and more on compassion.”
Last week, John Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University here, said that although many church leaders do not agree with Pope Francis on many issues, “there is no doubt that the Pope has made millions of people to once again “feel proud to be a Catholic.”
Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP