Updated September 23, 11:32 am
Lots of big applause moments, a few confused frowns, some dozing elder statesmen, and some Republicans staying firmly in their seats. That's what the room was like on Thursday as Pope Francis addressed Congress—the first time a pope has ever made such a speech. He called for the global abolition of the death penalty, more effort to care for the poor and the environment, an end to armed conflict, and protection of the family—including traditional marriage. It was a grab bag of issues, but it was mostly spoken in Francis-y language: through the lenses of care, cooperation, stewardship, and justice.
And Francis ended his speech with a challenge for Congress, and for the millions of other Americans who were listening:
A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.
During the speech, the best thing to watch was the aerobics. Congressional addresses are notorious for their thick politics of who sits and who stands and who claps when, and this speech was no different. Francis was flanked on either side by two Catholics, John Boehner and Joe Biden, who hold very different views on issues the pope talked about, including climate change, family, and poverty. Perhaps the two politicians made a pact of mutually assured sitting, because neither got up with the applause moments, but early on, Boehner wiped away some tears.