Connecticut Delegation Lauds Pope Francis' Speech To Congress

By:  Alaine Griffin
Hartford Courant

Members of Connecticut's congressional delegation said Pope Francis' historic speech before Congress Thursday was a call for America's leaders to put aside their differences and to work together on the world's most pressing social, economic and environmental issues.

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy said the pope challenged leaders like him to address such important issues as climate change, poverty, hunger and the plight of refugees from around the world, reminding Americans that the United States has traditionally been a place where the war-torn and persecuted have looked to for help.

"I took particular note of his admonition that 'if we want security, let us give security.' This was his challenge for the United States to get off the sidelines of the ongoing humanitarian and refugee crisis in Iraq and Syria, possibly the worst humanitarian disaster of our times," Murphy said in a statement.

In a telephone interview, Murphy described the speech as emotional and uplifting, "a very different feel" than other joint sessions.

"A lot of political pundits wanted to make this speech political. It wasn't. It was about values and a broad range of issues the pope thinks we should confront," Murphy said. "I was very moved by the speech, in particular on the part about the golden rule. It is such a simple idea but to hear it extrapolated in a way Pope Francis did today left you so inspired."

Murphy, a Protestant, said that although it "felt and looked different to have someone cloaked in something other than a business suit standing on the podium," he said he supported the pope's address to Congress.

"We would be rewriting American history if we suggested that we are a purely a secular nation," Murphy said, adding that many of the country's laws are rooted in religion. "I think it was perfectly appropriate to have him here and in a way surprising that this was the first time."

Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, said in a statement that he was "genuinely moved" by the speech.

"The overarching themes of his speech – responsibility, humility and peace – are core values that ought to unite us all. I hope that hearing the pope, the spiritual leader to more than a billion people, will inspire all political leaders to treat each other with more kindness and dignity and strive toward a more peaceful and just world," said Himes, a Presbyterian.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, said in a telephone interview that the speech was so moving, it brought her and others to tears.

"I found myself with tissues and wiping my eyes and I know that was true of other people as well," said DeLauro, a Roman Catholic.

DeLauro was part of an escort committee that accompanied Pope Francis to the rostrum, where he delivered his speech, the first time a pope has addressed a joint session of Congress.

DeLauro said one of the highlights of the pope's speech was when he said that "millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants."

DeLauro, the daughter of Italian immigrants, said those words were "poignant and very personal" for her.

"This pope is all about what are we doing for the poor and vulnerable. How are we wrapping our arms around them and not pushing them away?" DeLauro said.

She said she believes the pope understands America and in his speech, used key figures in American history to show his knowledge of this country.

"He reminded us of our roots and reminded us of the strengths of our country," DeLauro said.

In an emailed statement, Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said Pope Francis "delivered a brilliant challenge to politics as usual," calling on lawmakers to "raise their sights beyond the trivial disagreements that too often paralyze Washington."

Courtney, a Roman Catholic, said the pope "urged us to work together to meet the major challenges of our time: to protect the planet, to care for one another, and to lift up our brothers and sisters living in poverty, in America and around the world. Today's address was a much-needed reminder that we are here to serve the American people, not to waste precious time on petty squabbling."

"At a moment when ego and bluster all too often passes for leadership, the Pope's example of leading through humility and humanity is a reminder that we each have the opportunity to serve," said U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, a Congregationalist. "His message of acceptance and inclusion helps point the way for all of us, including those in Congress, to find a way to work together for a better world."

Rep. John B. Larson, D-1st District, said the pope's message was inspiring to Catholics and non-Catholics.

"I applaud the Pope for his commitment to caring for all, especially those most vulnerable to the ravages of war, poverty and social injustice," Larson, a Roman Catholic, said in a statement. "He correctly notes that we in Congress have the privilege and the responsibility to look after all of the citizens we represent, to thoughtfully legislate in their best interest. Let us hope that his appeal to our better angels spills into the final days of this fiscal year with so much important legislation still ahead."

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who is Jewish, said Pope Francis' "warmth, faith, humor and compassion were all-embracing, indeed incandescent. Especially striking was his riveting appeal for social justice and peace – saving the planet, stopping cycles of poverty and violence, welcoming immigrants and refugees to America, the land of dreams. My hope is that this profoundly powerful message moves Congress to action, recognizing the common good that Pope Francis evoked so eloquently."