By: Regina Wright ~Staff Writer~
After arriving in the United States on Sept. 23, Pope Francis began his trip to America with a welcoming ceremony at the White House. In the afternoon, Pope Francis held the Mass of Canonization of Junípero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Junípero Serra was a Spanish Franciscan friar who aided in colonizing California in the late 1700s and converted thousands of Native Americans to Catholicism.
Junípero Serra is the first Hispanic saint and the first saint to be canonized in the U.S. On Thursday, Pope Francis addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress about many issues including new forms of slavery, climate change, social justice, the death penalty and arms trading.
Pope Francis started his speech with honoring Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. “They shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the American people,” Pope Francis said. “A people with this spirit can live through many crises, tensions and conflicts, while always finding the resources to move forward, and to do so with dignity.”
Pope Francis spoke about immigration and encouraged people to take in families from Syria, the source of the largest immigration crisis since World War II, and urged listeners to respect all immigrants.
“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.” Pope Francis advocated for global abolition of the death penalty by reemphasizing The Golden Rule, treat others how you would like to be treated.
“The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development … 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.”
He also spoke about climate change and the duty that lies on every country to contribute to changing many aspects of their behavior that affect the environment.
“We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all,” Pope Francis said. Pope Francis also called for a confrontation of problems like the arms trade and the disadvantaged youth.
After his address to Congress, Pope Francis declined dinner with the politicians and instead opted to eat with members of the homeless community. During his journey to the U.S. Pope Francis also held mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, addressed the United Nations General Assembly and visited Philadelphia. Pope Francis left the U.S. for Rome on Sunday night.