Following Francis: Thursday

Pope Francis meets people involved with St. Maria's Meals Program of Catholic Charities in Washington Sept. 24. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
This article appears in the Francis in the United States feature series. View the full series.

Editor's note: NCR will be tracking reception to Pope Francis' visit to the United States. Check back at this post throughout the day as it is updated with the latest reactions.


Philadelphia fills with nervous energy in anticipation

Philadelphia — Less than a day and a half before the expected Pope-pocalypse, the City of Brotherly Love seems almost preternaturally calm. While it can take approximately ten minutes to navigate the thronged corridors of the Philadelphia Convention Center where the World Meeting of Families is being held through tomorrow, the streets outside are emptier than usual -- bringing the green shirts of conference attendees and the higher than normal number of clerical collars on the streets into sharper relief.

Public and many private schools are closed. The courts aren't in session. Many businesses will be closed tomorrow.

But it's pretty clear that the city is preparing for unprecedented activity. Tall metal barriers bedeck many streets, with others lying in piles on the sidewalk. Yellow plastic oblongs shield wires sprouting at strategic points along the papal motorcade route. A sign outside a restaurant just up from the Convention Center proclaims almost defiantly "We will be here" above an advertisement for a Philly cheesesteak. And outside the Convention Center, vendors hawk t-shirts with profiles of the pope's head and the words: "I was here."

Read the full report: Philly prepares for unprecedented activity during pope's visit

Visit NCR's Online Classifieds to learn about job opportunities, conferences, retreats and more.

--Elizabeth Eisenstadt Evans, 6:06 eastern time


Francis' address endorses free market agenda

Much speculation leading up to Pope Francis' address to Congress built up the historic moment to be a "liberal manifesto," said Daniel Garza, executive director of LIBRE Initiative, a grassroots organization to empower Hispanics in the free market.

"It didn't come close to that," he said, adding that his conservative coalition agreed with the pope's objectives and desired outcomes: "to lift the poor, to improve our environment, and of course hold the culture of life sacred. In fact, I think he was very direct about the virtue of free enterprise as a vehicle to lift people."

The address wasn't critical of the free market, Garza added; rather, it was "a call to consciousness" to the players in the system. "I don't see anything wrong with that. He's right -- we should be principled. … Free market advocates endorse the necessity of the free market to lift the poor, to create opportunity, but in a principled manner. And that was his message."

LIBRE Initiative has always been "fully aligned" with the pope's stance on immigrants and refugees, Garza said, noting that capitalists should pay attention to the economic benefits that come with new arrivals.

"This is something we feel is positive for our country and that is going to improve the economy and bring us together. Immigrants have done that throughout history. The hundreds of millions of immigrants who have come to America have brought wealth, industry, innovation, and opportunity. We want to continue that, and the pope is right in line with that.

"Race, ethnicity or religion should not matter when it comes to ideas or sound public policy. But obviously the messenger is important."

-- Soli Salgado, 4:58 p.m. central time


Avoiding specifics, Francis addresses structural causes of poverty

Reporters and TV pundits have been trying to “buttonhole the pope into one political persuasion,” but Pope Francis came to Congress with the intent to build bridges, said Eric LeCompte, executive director of JubileeUSA, a religious development organization that strives to build an economy that “protects the vulnerable.”

Though speaking for the vulnerable has been a central theme to Francis’ papacy, how to address poverty in the U.S. has been a contentious issue among Congress, making this speech all the more anticipated.

LeCompte said he was particularly excited to hear Francis note that “structures cause poverty, which has been JubileeUSA’s approach since we’ve been founded by Pope John Paul II. At the end of the day, you have to deal with issues like corporate tax avoidance and trade structures that cause poverty around the world, and the fact that he referenced Dorothy Day in that is very powerful.”

It was the right man at the right time, LeCompte said of a popular pope visiting a polarized country. Issues of inequality and extreme poverty, trade and tax debt have always been a part of Catholic teaching, he added, noting that Pope Benedict XVI also emphasized these problems.  But Francis “has built up such a following that it’s making what he’s saying much more impactful.”

While his speech avoided specifics and technicalities -- areas which he addressed in his visit to Latin America -- Francis spoke of economic inequality in broader strokes so as to inspire bipartisanship, LeCompte said.

“He very consciously came to Congress with the attempt to encourage leaders to be less polarized. His statements have been very focused on what the problems are and what the issues are, but perhaps not getting too much into the technical issues as he does on a daily basis because he’s trying to invite the leaders to come together to solve these problems.”

-- Soli Salgado, 4:05 p.m. central time


Francis' message on immigrants 'reflective of our nation as immigrants'

Kevin Appelby is the director of Migration Policy in the Migration and Refugee Services group, part of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“I thought the address was quite complex and a substantive speech that hit on a lot of issues in a profound way,” Appelby told NCR. “His messages on immigration were reflective of our nation as immigrants.”

Appelby the pope’s message was timeless and “without getting very specific it clearly shows where the church stands on the issue of immigration, and provides overarching support for us and our advocacy.”

Appelby said the pope had a certain role to play and a certain message but “now it’s the job of advocates to fill in the details and to do our job.”

-- Elizabeth A. Elliott, 4:03 p.m., central time


Pope's call to abolish death penalty mobilizes activists

Following a thunderous applause to his quoting the Golden Rule, Pope Francis segued into contentious territory before Congress: calling for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty.

"We were hopeful that he would address this issue when he was here," said Diann Rust-Tierney, executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. "But to have him say this at this historic joint meeting of Congress was beyond even my wildest expectations and hopes."

"He put the death penalty in this broader context of the kind of world we want to have," she continued. "You can't be people of hope and redemption and grace if we cut that opportunity off for others. I saw this as more of a holistic discussion of the kind of people we want to be, where we put humanity of others at the forefront."

Addressing access to good education, mental health services, or safe and affordable housing, she said, are better avenues toward achieving security, rather than turning to the death penalty.

But whether or not the death penalty keeps us safe is irrelevant to the bigger conversation, Rust-Tierney said in a statement on behalf of the coalition. "Pope Francis speaks on behalf of more than 90 million Americans who know that the reasons to end capital punishment aren't just about ending a broken, biased system that doesn't ultimately make us safer as a country. Rather, ending the death penalty is the moral thing to do, a recognition that all human life has dignity, and that even the most seemingly irredeemable souls can be rehabilitated."

Though the conservative agenda typically endorses capital punishment, Francis' call to end the death penalty is "having a real impact on American conservatives," according to a statement by Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. "We see it every day in our work with fellow conservatives who, often prompted by their faith, increasingly are recognizing that the death penalty is both an unnecessary and harmful policy."

"Pope Francis understands that the death penalty fails as a response to violence," the statement continued. "The death penalty does not make society safer. ... In light of these concerns and recent wrongful convictions and botched executions, more states should heed the Pope's call to end the death penalty."

National Catholic Reporter issued a joint call to end the death penalty along with three other Catholic publications, as have the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"Not only do I support them," Francis said Thursday of the USCCB, "but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation."

-- Soli Salgado, 3:25 p.m. central time


NYC prepares to meet the pope

Jim_Sullivan.JPGNCR reader and citizen of New York City, Jim Sullivan, is preparing a warm welcome for Pope Francis. In the NCR newsrooom now, we are watching Pope Francis at Joint Base Andrews boarding the American Airlines aircraft that will take him to JFK airport. His next scheduled event is a vesper service at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan at 6:45 p.m. eastern time.

Jim is standing outside the historic Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, which is, according the Stonewall Inn website, the birthplace of the modern Gay Rights movement. The photo was taken this morning. The building housing Stonewall is undergoing renovation.

--Dennis Coday, NCR editor. 2:55 p.m. central time


Reactions from Congress visitor, watch party at Rockhurst University

In conjunction with the more than 100 “Pope2Congress” watch parties organized by the Ignatian Solidarity Network, about 250 students, staff and neighbors came together at Rockhurst University to watch Pope Francis address Congress.  The event was sponsored by both the Rockhurst Office of Mission and Ministry and the Campus Ministry office.

Jackson Gress, a senior at Bishop Miege High School in Roeland Park, Kan., said he appreciates how approachable the pope seems to be.

“He talks the language of the people and he’s not afraid to address the issues that are plaguing our world and our nation, even the issues that are traditionally outside what the church talks about.

“I’m challenged by his environmental teaching since this is going to be the world that I grow up in and when people talk about how the planet is going to be ruined in 50 years that’s going to be right as I’m retiring and that’s going to affect me very personally.”

He thinks the pope has had an impact on the young people “in a way I don’t think the church has seen since John Paul II.”

Hannah Pattterson, a senior at Bishop Miege High School, said she appreciates the way Francis takes his time putting together his thoughts and “it’s not just another speech, but a discerning and careful thought.”

The pope addressed the young people during his speech saying “For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair.”

Patterson said she appreciated his all-inclusive approach to youth. “Pope Francis does not disregard the youth of the world and he inspires recognition and support for every young person.”

Jesuit Fr. Mark A. Lewis, director of the Thomas More Center at Rockhurst University, told NCR that one of the things that was fun to watch were points where people were clapping and where other people were not clapping. “Everyone clapped at some point.”

The strongest points of applause at Rockhurst occurred during the introduction of Francis to Congress, his call to defend human life at any stage of its development, family life being essential to the building of the country, and attention on the youth. Some of the older people in the audience applauded when the pope said “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.”

“I would say in a fairly short speech the pope was able to address a wide variety of issues and give something for everyone in the United States to talk about,” he said. “There’s got to be one topic in that hour that someone will want to explore more and discuss with friends and maybe with people that disagree.”

Ellen-Elizabeth Lee of Takomah Park, Md., was seated on the lawn for the pope’s address to Congress. She said this is her third time being in a papal audience, following World Youth Day in 1993 and a choir trip in 1997. She said there was a blessed hush over the crowd outside.

“It’s nice how there has been a sense of calm around the city, but energized with the feeling that someone so important is going to be here and when it’s for a faith leader it’s even better,” she said.

Lee said some of the most cheered items outside were the pope’s speech about immigration and individual freedoms, as well as his mention of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.

“I got the sense that not everyone felt the same about every topic, but there is unity in respecting ideas,” she said. “There was a great sense of unity that I felt.” 

While the pope addressed many issues, he didn’t cover everything. Lee is a gay Catholic and while she hoped he would say something specific she wasn’t surprised that he didn’t.

“When he said our highest priority should be family he kept it at that, he didn’t say family by traditional means,” she said. “Families can come in all shapes and sizes and we should just be glad that people want to bring life into this world and raise good human beings.” She added, “I felt that in his own way he was acknowledging our population as well.”

-- Elizabeth A. Elliott, 1:48 p.m. central time 


Francis is intent on 'breaking the mold'

Writing in his Distinctly Catholic blog today, Michael Sean Winters says:

There are not many people in the world who, if asked to identify four Americans worthy of emulation, would come up with the list Pope Francis did in his speech to a joint meeting of Congress: Abraham Lincoln, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. This is the second day in a row that the Holy Father has mentioned Rev. King, the most prominent U.S. clergyman to be killed in the twentieth century and truly one of the greatest Americans who ever lived.

Once again, Pope Francis displays, in his choice of references, just how revolutionary he is. Especially for Catholics, the choice of Day and Merton, both of whom were not exactly what you would call pray, pay and obey Catholics, is stunning. They were not only outside the mold, they broke the mold. Pope Francis seems intent on doing the same.

Read Winter’s full assessment here: Pope Francis' Address to Congress

--NCR Staff, 12:25 a.m. central time


Crowd on Capitol lawn applauds Francis' 'Golden Rule' citation

She wasn't able to listen to Pope Francis give his speech to Congress in person, but the view from the lawn of the Capitol was just as good for Global Sisters Report's Sr. Jan Cebula.

"There was an excitement I felt in the crowd today [at the Capitol] that I didn't feel yesterday" at the White House, said Cebula, who toured the country Sept. 16-22 with the Nuns on the Bus.

Cebula said the crowd on the lawn, which included people of all ages and ethnic groups, watched Pope Francis' address on screens. The group applauded at various points in the speech, but the loudest applause came when Francis cited the Golden Rule.

"He's so gentle. He has a very gentle strength," Cebula said. "The message was clearly there, but in such a gentle way. He wasn't ranting and raving. He was just inviting us to be more of who we say we are and how important it is to include everyone in that."

Cebula, a former resident of and volunteer at the Holy Family Catholic Worker in Kansas City, Mo., said it was "just wonderful" to hear Pope Francis talk about Dorothy Day and recognize the values of social justice and inclusion.

And when the pope appeared on the balcony, blessed those on the lawn and asked for blessings in return?

"It's very hard for me to say how I felt," she said. "I'm still processing how I felt and feel about it. It was just so moving to see him because of the message he's been bringing. It was the perfect end to Nuns on the Bus."

-- Global Sisters Report staff, 11:45 a.m. central time


Reflections from the congressional chamber

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- There was a general sense of magnetism in the chamber -- which was packed, not one empty seat -- as Pope Francis took his reading glasses out and prepared to speak. All eyes were trained on the man in white. 

In general, the Republicans seemed to follow the lead of Democrats when it came to clapping -- only by a second or so, but noticeable.  

A very big applause and many gleaming smiles filled the chamber after Francis’ wonderful delivery of “land of the free, and home of there brave.” 

Most of Francis’ remarks, such as, “I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of dreams,” drew almost everyone out of their seats.

Others seemed to play with the politically polarized audience. 

When Francis said, “The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development,“ Republicans led the clapping. It felt as though he was about to discuss abortion -- a Republican political cause. 

But it was the Democrats who stood next -- one house democrat literally popping out of her seat with a “wooh!” -- when Francis followed that statement with, “This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty."

-- Vinnie Rotondaro, 11:16 a.m. central time


Francis' reluctant, unlikely US Catholic role models

In his address to Congress, Pope Francis held up as model U.S. Catholics Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. NCR publisher Thomas C. Fox gives a quick overview of these Catholic radicals, who led messy lives, were devoted to nonvoilence and social equality, and have inspired generations of believers.

Read his full report here: Day and Merton: The Catholic Radicals Francis Cited

‘This filthy, rotten system’

“Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system,” a quote attributed to Dorothy Day, is widely quoted by scholars, journalists and Catholic Workers, even more since her death in 1980. It is rare to find a reference to Dorothy and the movement she cofounded that does not include it, and some offer it as a distillation of her prodigious body of writing into a few pithy words.

This is Dorothy Day’s most famous quote. The problem, Catholic Worker Brian Terrell explains, is that she probably never said it.


NCR coverage on Twitter

Selected tweets from McElwee about the pope's address to Congress:

.@Pontifex ends extraordinary speech to US political establishment in the traditional way: "God Bless America!" Wide applause. #PopeInUSA

.@Pontifex: "We live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future."

.@Pontifex strongly criticizes global arms trade, saying it is based on "money that is drenched in blood." #PopeInUSA

.@Pontifex now turns to example of Thomas Merton, Catholic monk who was once silenced by superiors. Incredible. #PopeInUSA

.@Pontifex: US and Congress "have an important role to play" in stopping climate change. #PopeInUSA

.@Pontifex "The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes." #PopeInUSA

.@Pontifex calls for global abolition of death penalty in Congress. Muted applause. #PopeInUSA

.@Pontifex: "The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us." #PopeInUSA

.@Pontifex: "Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves." #PopeInUSA

US Congress give standing ovation to @Pontifex's citation of the Golden Rule. This is new evangelization! #PopeInUSA

.@Pontifex: We must view refugees "as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories." #PopeInUSA

.@Pontifex: "When the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past." #PopeInUSA

.@Pontifex: "We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners." #PopeInUSA

.@Pontifex to Congress: "Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good & cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity" #PopeInUSA

.@Pontifex talking to US political leaders about four historical Americans, including Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton -- radical Catholics!

.@Pontifex to US leaders: "You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the ... pursuit of the common good."

.@SpeakerBoehner: "I have the high honor and distinct pleasure of introducing to you, Pope Francis of the Holy See." #PopeInUSA

Minutes ago, Joshua McElwee ‏tweeted: 

Floor of House crowded, Senators and reps waiting for @Pontifex to be introduced in. #PopeInUSA

.@vp and @johnboehner calling meeting to order. @Pontifex coming to Congress soon. #PopeInUSA

​Follow Josh on Twitter at @joshjmac, as well as NCR at @NCRonline

-- NCR staff, 8:59 a.m. central time


Catholic climate leader: 'Unfortunate' if elected officials boycott Francis

With Pope Francis set Thursday morning for his historic address to Congress, a leading Catholic climate advocate said it would be "unfortunate" that any elected official may opt to skip the speech due to disagreements on global warming.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar*, R-Ariz., stated he would pass on the pope's joint session address – the first ever from a pope – because he anticipated Francis would discuss climate change.

"If the Pope stuck to standard Christian theology, I would be the first in line. … But when the Pope chooses to act and talk like a leftist politician, then he can expect to be treated like one," Gosar said in an online column.

Such an attitude, said Dan Misleh, executive director of the U.S.-based Catholic Climate Covenant, is disappointing given that the pope has called for dialogue around climate change and environmental issues.

"It's unfortunate that any elected official with the job of representing his constituents in the public sphere--and paid to have discussions with people with whom he may disagree--would bow out of an historic speech by a leader of Pope Francis's stature," he said.

How legislators might react to the pontiff's address has been the source of much speculation since it's announcement, as the stances Francis has taken on various issues rattle both sides of the U.S. political spectrum.

"The Church and its leaders urge serious and sustained dialogue on many issues, including poverty, economics, and unborn life," Misleh said. "Each of these issues have moral and political consequences. Catholics and all people of faith have a moral responsibility to ensure human life is protected and human dignity is promoted.

"As we enter into a new era where the climate is changing primarily by human actions and neglect, this responsibility is now an even more urgent topic for discussion and debate of the sort the Pope is promoting," he said.

Gosar, a self-described "proud Catholic" and graduate of Jesuit-run Creighton University, said he felt a moral obligation to call out any leader, even the pope, "who ignore Christian persecution and fail to embrace opportunities to advocate for religious freedom and the sanctity of human life."

Addressing Gosar specifically, Misleh said that should he elect to boycott the pope's address, he will also be boycotting the positions of other Catholic leaders, including the U.S. bishops, who addressed climate change in a 2001 pastoral letter, and both Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI,  "who have been asking for dialogue on climate change since at least 1990."

--- Brian Roewe, 8:49 central time

*An earlier version of this story misspelled U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar's name.


Diverse voices try to be heard

Roy BourgeoisJAneV_9232015.jpgWashington -- Among the people waiting to enter the Cathedral of St. Matthew in Washington D.C., yesterday morning in advance of Pope Francis' appearance there were advocates for women's ordination in the Roman Catholic church.

Roy Bourgeois, a Maryknoll priest who has been sanctioned by the Vatican for his stand with women, was granting interviews while holding a sign that read "ordain women."

Jane Via, the recently retired pastor Mary Magdalene Apostle Catholic Community in San Diego, was also on hand. Her sign reads, "This is what a Roman Catholic Woman Priest looks like."

New York magazine has a great story: The Toughest Job in Washington? Being a Pope Francis Protestor.


Where to watch

You can watch the pope's address to Congress on Catholic News Service and the USCCB website.

-- NCR staff, 8:02 a.m. central time


Wednesday Refresher

Catch up on what the pope did Wednesday in the U.S. with NCR's Wednesday edition of Following Francis.

Fr. Thomas Reese, NCR senior analyst, made a myriad of TV appearances, including Fox News. Reese engaged the commentators well, despite being continually interrupted. See the clip here.

-- NCR staff, 8:02 a.m. central time


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