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Pope Francis Speaks Before Joint Meeting Of Congress


Pope Francis has become the first pope ever to address a joint meeting of Congress. He did this with less than a week to go before a potential government shutdown. The pope urged lawmakers to stop being so polarized, and, as NPR's Ailsa Chang reports, he also made a case for immigration reform, protecting the environment and defending life.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Members of Congress had been advised by leaders to hold their applause until the end of Pope Francis's speech as a show of respect. But in his very first sentence, the pontiff took note of where he was standing.


POPE FRANCIS: In the land of the free and the home of the brave.


CHANG: And that kicked off a speech that, at turns, gave the left and then the right something to cheer about. The Pope has taken positions that collide with the politics of Republicans and some that collide with Democrats. The question was, which side might feel more awkward by the end of his speech today? Some Republicans sat stonefaced while Francis passionately defended immigration. The people of this continent, he said, are not fearful of foreigners.


POPE FRANCIS: Because most of us were once foreigners.


CHANG: And then he made a reference to the flow of Syrian refugees into Europe, describing a crisis of a magnitude not seen since World War II.


POPE FRANCIS: We must not be taken aback by the numbers but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening...


POPE FRANCIS: To their stories.

CHANG: Francis urged his listeners, don't discard what proves troublesome.


POPE FRANCIS: Let us remember the golden rule. Do unto others as you...


CHANG: As you would have them do unto you. It's a rule he applied elsewhere too.


POPE FRANCIS: The golden rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.


CHANG: And with that, Republicans jumped up to applaud in solidarity, figuring that was the pope's way of denouncing abortion. But Francis immediately veered into calling for an end to the death penalty to the delight of many on the other side. Democrats also rose to a standing ovation when the pope asked lawmakers to help protect the environment, an issue many Republicans felt wasn't all that partisan.

DEVIN NUNES: Everybody here wants to protect the environment.

CHANG: House Republican Devin Nunes of California.

NUNES: The question is, is, does global warming really exist? You know, I think that's still left out to - left out there. But in terms of protecting the environment, that's something Republicans and Democrats all want to do.

CHANG: After Francis left the Capitol, many invited to hear his speech lingered in the hallways. Some Republicans pointed out that certain seemingly liberal tones in the pope's speech are actually quite consistent with GOP politics. Former House Republican Phil Gingrey of Georgia said he took no issue with welcoming immigrants.

PHIL GINGREY: I don't think that was inconsistent with us maintaining strong borders and the rule of law. He didn't say, you know, open the floodgates, and let illegal immigrants cross at will.

CHANG: Other Republicans noted that although the left seemed so excited about the pope's arrival, remember, the pontiff has been a powerful voice conservatives. Here's Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.

TED CRUZ: His admonition to Congress that we should protect human life at every stage of development was powerful, all the more so in the wake of Senate Democrats standing almost entirely united in support of late-term abortion.

CHANG: And abortion is now the central issue that could propel the government into another shutdown next week. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
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