WASHINGTON — Before Pope Francis even entered the U.S. House Chamber, lawmakers were already on their feet. But when the pontiff began his address, the first ever by a pope before the Congress of the United States, the room got quiet.
Two Maryland Democrats had a particular interest in this historic speech. Rep. John Delaney and Sen. Barbara Mikulski are both practicing Catholics.
“I sincerely hope that history will mark this day not only as the first papal address to Congress, but as the beginning of a new time in Washington,” Delaney said in a statement.
Mikulski, who is retiring when her term ends in January 2017, called the event “an emotional and historic moment for our country.” She was a member of the Papal Escort Committee, a bipartisan, bicameral group that greeted the bishop of Rome and followed him into the historic House Chamber.
Francis, addressing a joint session, touched on many topics during his roughly hour-long speech. One of the highlights was his call for aid and compassion for migrants and refugees. “If we want security [for ourselves], let us give security,” he said, referencing the Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Importantly, Delaney said the pope “spoke out against political division and reminded us of our duty to work together towards the common good. In a time of discord, Pope Francis delivered a unifying message.”
Pope Francis’ message was larger than Washington politics, according to the congressman. The second-term House member said the pope challenged Americans “to uphold what he called our ‘personal and social responsibility’ to care for others.”
The pope also touched on the importance of community values, a subject that resonated strongly with Mikulski.
“The pope challenged us to work together for the good of families, communities and the good of our society through neighbor helping neighbor and habits of the heart,” said Mikulski. “I couldn’t agree more.”
“It is my hope that out of his historic address comes an action plan where we come together to improve day-to-day lives of people everywhere, helping people work toward their hopes and aspirations, respecting human dignity and protecting our planet,” she said in a statement.