Pope: Treat immigrants humanely
WASHINGTON – Pope Francis beseeched Americans to end hostility toward immigrants in a historic speech before the U.S. Congress on Thursday, weighing in forcefully on a divisive issue that is stirring debate in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Bringing a message that America’s power and wealth should be used to serve humanity, the 78-year-old pontiff said the United States must not turn its back on “the stranger in our midst”.
“Building a nation calls us to recognise that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility,” Francis told the Republican-led Congress in Washington a day after he met with Democratic President Barack Obama.
Francis, born in Argentina to an Italian immigrant family, delivered a wide-ranging speech that addressed issues dear to liberals in the United States but also emphasised conservative values and Catholic teachings on the family.
The leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics called for a worldwide end to the death penalty, which is still used in 31 of the 50 U.S. states, while advocating a more equitable economy to help people “trapped in a cycle of poverty” and a greater effort against climate change driven by human activities.
The pope later flew to New York, where he was cheered by throngs lining Fifth Avenue as he headed in his “popemobile” to St Patrick’s Cathedral to the sound of the cathedral bells pealing. With organ music playing and a chorus singing, the pope was welcomed by a crowd of 3 000 inside the cathedral for an evening prayer service.
On Friday, he is scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly in New York and to celebrate an open-air Mass in Philadelphia on Sunday.
His plea on immigration received frequent applause mostly from Democrats but also from Republicans among the lawmakers, Supreme Court justices and other dignitaries packed inside the House of Representatives chamber to hear the first address by a pope to a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress.
Harsh rhetoric toward illegal immigrants has featured heavily in the race for the Republican nomination for the November 2016 presidential election.
Republican front-runner Donald Trump says if elected he would deport all 11 million illegal immigrants, most of whom are from Latin America like the pope, and the billionaire businessman has accused Mexico of sending rapists and other criminals across the border.
The Pope, addressing an issue that has cost the Republicans support among increasingly influential Hispanic voters, said America should not be put off by the flow of foreigners from south of the border “in search of a better life”.
“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. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal,” he said, speaking softly and in heavily accented English.
As he spoke, Francis was flanked by two of America’s most influential Catholics: House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, and Democratic Vice President Joe Biden. Boehner, who often tears up at emotional moments, cried openly during the speech. (Reuters)