Pope Francis made history Thursday morning as he became the first-ever pontiff to address a joint-session of Congress in Washington, D.C.
All nine members of Alabama’s congressional delegation were in attendance during the pope’s 50-minute speech as he touched on several controversial themes of his papacy in front of lawmakers — immigration, the refugee crisis, climate change and the death penalty — calling on the deeply divided Congress to come together and renew a “spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.”
“Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation,” the pope said. “You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics.”
Members of Congress were permitted to invite guests to the session — one ticket each to sit and watch in the House gallery. Following the joint-session, the pope made a brief appearance on Speaker John Boenher‘s balcony on the West Front of the Capitol where spectators below viewed the 78-year-old leader of the Catholic Church on big-screens as he spoke. In addition to the gallery seats during the joint-session, each member of Congress received one seated ticket for this speech, as well as 200 standing tickets for Senators, and 50 standing tickets for each representative.
Here’s who the Alabama delegation invited to today’s historic event and what they had to say about the pope’s speech:
U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions invited Dr. Christopher Puto, the President of Spring Hill College in Mobile, a Jesuit college, as his special guest. Sessions’ office gave all of their lawn tickets away to constituents on a first come, first serve basis.
U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (AL-01) invited Angel Helmsing, a theology teacher at McGill-Toolen in Mobile and distributed roughly 40 lawn tickets to constituents.
Bryne said the following of the pope’s remarks:
As one of the most influential moral leaders in the world, it was an honor to welcome Pope Francis to the Capitol for today’s historic address.
I was pleased Pope Francis addressed a number of important issues like the need to support pro-life policies and stand up for traditional families. I also share the Pope’s concerns about helping Americans who remain stuck in poverty. I believe the time has come to once again reform our nation’s welfare programs to ensure they are actually helping the Americans who need them the most.
I was most impressed by what the Pope had to say about the need for Congress to work together. Far too often in Washington we get caught up in political games, but the Pope inspired all of us to never lose focus on our ultimate responsibility: to improve the lives of our neighbors and fellow Americans.
U.S. Rep. Martha Roby (AL-02) tweeted before the pope began speaking:
— Rep. Martha Roby (@RepMarthaRoby) September 24, 2015
She later posted on Facebook:
As you know, Pope Francis was in Washington this week and spoke to a joint meeting of Congress today. This article gives a good timeline of the events and atmosphere here in DC. Though I’m not Catholic, I have many friends, family members and constituents who are, and I know this visit was very meaningful. It is always great to see America put her best foot forward for such an esteemed guest, and I think that has happened.
I won’t reengineer parts of his speech here to advance my political ideology. There’s enough of that already, and it probably misses the point. I do think his humble, respectful tone and message of hope and forgiveness were warmly received by everyone in the chamber. And I’m sure we can all agree that the most impactful part of his speech came in the form of three short words: “God Bless America!”
U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07) invited a college friend whom she mentored at Princeton and distributed to tickets to all constituents who requested them. Sewell re-tweeted Califorinia Rep. Xavier Becerra of the pope’s address:
Sewell said the following of the pope’s speech:
Pope Francis’ address to Congress reminded our nation of its greatness, and challenged us to go even farther in the pursuit of liberty and justice. We must look at our neighbor as our brother, and work to end injustice anywhere it exists.
I was pleased to hear His Holiness acknowledge the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and recognize the significance of the marches from Selma to Montgomery. As the Pope noted, ‘dreams lead to action, to participation, to commitment.’ I cannot think of a better example than the courage and strength shown by those brave men and women for whom that dream was so real it pushed them to lay down their very lives for equality. That moment was especially poignant for me, as I had the privilege of sitting next to my personal hero and civil rights icon Representative John Lewis.
Dr. King’s dream, however, has only been partially fulfilled. The legacies of the past still taint the present, and many Americans still struggle to exercise one of our most fundamental rights as citizens – the right to vote.
As our country continues to work towards becoming a more inclusive nation, we cannot overlook the most vulnerable amongst us. Instead, we must work together to ensure that the rights and liberties of every American citizen are never compromised.
The Holy See will wrap up his six day visit to the United States with trips to New York City and Philadelphia.