A Recap of Pope Francis’s Speech to Congress

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Pope Francis spoke to Congress this morning — the first pope to ever do so. The lawmakers were excited, somewhat apprehensive about what the pontiff might say, and busy trying to remember that they aren’t supposed to have a State of the Union–style clap battle. Here’s a recap of what Pope Francis said — and all of the reactions to his remarks. 

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Photo: Tom Williams/Getty Images

1:15 p.m.: Here is a link to a transcript of Pope Francis’s address. 

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Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images

12:50 p.m.: Members of Congress were eager to share their thoughts on the speech, too — or to just reiterate how excited they had been to watch it. 

12:20 p.m.: Several of the 2016 presidential candidates also had thoughts on the pope’s remarks — although only one delved into the political contents of his speech.

Senator Bernie Sanders, who has mentioned the pope several times in recent campaign speeches, seemed very excited by the speech before it even started.

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Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images

12:15 p.m.: In case you were wondering, Kim Kardashian seemed to enjoy the speech. 

12:00 p.m.: And, of course, the pope spoke about the environment. 

I am convinced that we can make a difference, and I have no doubt that the United States — and this Congress — have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a culture of care and an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature. We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology, to devise intelligent ways of … developing and limiting our power, and to put technology at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral. In this regard, I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead.”

He didn’t call on Congress to do anything too specific on this issue, though, leaving the lawmakers — who have differing opinions on what to do — to interpret his call in whatever way serves them best.

11:50 a.m.: Pope Francis also called for the “global abolition” of the death penalty during his speech — something he has discussed before. A majority of Americans support the death penalty — but support has been declining steadily. In recent years, it has become harder for states to obtain the drugs necessary for executions, which has led to a few high-profile botched, and horrifying, executions. 

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.”

Congress didn’t always do a good job hiding its feelings about the more controversial parts of the pope’s speech.

11:30 a.m.: And then he was gone. 

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By tonight he’ll be in New York. And in case you were wondering, the Catholic News Service has a handy tip for those trying to tell the Swiss Guard from the Secret Service.

11:10 a.m.: After the address to Congress, Pope Francis spoke briefly to the crowd waiting for him outside.

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Photo: Pool/2015 Getty Images

Boehner still looked pretty overwhelmed by it all.

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Based on photos from the Capitol, however, he definitely wasn’t alone.

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Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

11:00 a.m.: The pope ended his speech by saying, “God bless America.”

In these remarks I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream.”

10:50 a.m.: Pope Francis also talked about issues that the more conservative lawmakers in the audience wanted to hear about — although less directly than his statements on the environment and inequality. He said that “family” had been “essential … to the building of this country. And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement. Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. … Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.”

He added that “we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family.”

10:40 a.m.: Pope Francis name-dropped Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. multiple times during his speech. He noted that King’s "dream … continues to inspire us all" and said that Lincoln and King — along with Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day — “shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the American people.” Lincoln, he said, was the "guardian of liberty."

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Photo: VINCENZO PINTO/Getty Images

10:35 a.m.: Regarding the refugee crisis in Europe, Pope Francis asked Congress to remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

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 … We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome.”

10:30 a.m.: Pope Francis spoke frankly about immigration, noting that “many of you are also descended from 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. 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.”

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Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

10:25 a.m.: It did not take John Boehner too long to get emotional after the pope began speaking. 

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He had been waiting for this moment for a long time. 

As had Biden.

Before the speech began, Boehner and Vice-President Joe Biden, two of the most prominent Catholics in American government, excitedly talked to each other.

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10:22 a.m.: Early in his speech, Pope Francis gave a shout-out to Moses, who was also watching the historic event.

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10:20 a.m.: The pope told Congress that his speech is meant for the "entire people of the United States, through their elected representatives in front of him." 

I would like to take this opportunity,” he said, “to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and — one step at a time — to build a better life for their families.”

He added that "[b]uilding a future of freedom requires love of the common good" and that "pursuit of the common good" is "the chief aim of all politics."

9:45 a.m.: The pope arrived at the Capitol after 9 a.m. All of the lawmakers were getting ready by tweeting pictures bragging about how close to the pope they would be. 

Inside the House chamber, Senator Elizabeth Warren appeared to be warming up for a big fight against inequality or something. 

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Lawmakers were not the only people attending the speech; many of the senators and representatives invited friends, family, and other distinguished guests. Presidential candidates Ben Carson and Chris Christie were both at the address — along with all the senators running. Democratic donor Tom Steyer was invited by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Speaker of the House John Boehner invited Newt and Callista Gingrich.

Speaking of Boehner — he was very excited that the pope was coming. He has been inviting popes to come speak at the Capitol for about two decades; Pope Francis was the first to take him up on the offer. 

Outside the Capitol — where Jumbotrons have been set up to give spectators a view of the speech — thousands of people were waiting for a chance to see the pope when he would wave from a balcony after the address. Many people arrived before the sun rose this morning to get a good place to stand.