An invitation from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati for coffee with the pope drew several hundred people to Fountain Square on Sept. 24 to witness the historic speech by Pope Francis to a joint session of Congress.
Francis, the people’s pope, captured the attention of the crowd and passersby from the giant video board atop Macy’s department store.
“I think he’s inspiring with his intellect and his humility,” said Reid Rooney. “I think his drawing out specific Americans to deliver his message was compelling. He’s a moving individual whether you’re Catholic or not.”
Francisthe role of four historical figures in shaping our shared values: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton. “It is my desire,” he said, “that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream.”
Deioncray Kelly found inspiration in the pope’s emphasis on the Golden Rule. “Respect others and do unto others as you want them to do unto you. You can’t try to get respect from somebody if you’re not giving them respect,” he said.
Francis applied the rule in several ways: “In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.”
He continued, “The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development. This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.”
Respect for the dignity of each “human person” is a foundational value for the pope, who sees the same value expressed in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”
Without God in our lives, “we lose track of the goodness in each person,” said Kathy Feibelman.
For Francis, moving forward on the many issues facing mankind means “being at the service of dialogue and peace” and “cooperating generously for the common good.”
However, “if we keep standing in the square shouting and trying to drown each other out, we’re going to stay exactly where we are right now,” observed Rev. Len Wenke, director of pastoral services for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
Francis has characterized “unbridled capitalism” in harsh terms. In his encyclical, Evangelii Gaudium, he spoke critically of the theory of trickle-down economics:
“[S]ome people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”
Against this backdrop, he framed his thoughts to Congress in gentler terms, quoting from his recent encyclical, the Laudato Si’: “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.”
Francis challenged Congress on other topics as well, including poverty, which he connected to “the creation and distribution of wealth,” inequality, immigration, environmental protection, religious liberty, traditional families, the arms trade, and politics itself. “If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance.” In closing, he harkened back to our heritage to describe what constitutes a great nation.
“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.”