Pope Francis is urging Americans to not “repeat the sins and the errors of the past,” and to treat immigrants better than European settlers treated the American Indians.
Drawing inspiration from Martin Luther King Jr’s 1963 speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the Pope called America “a land of dreams” that inspires us all, during his historic speech to a joint session of Congress.
“In recent centuries, 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,” he said.
“I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants,” he said.
At this point the Pope turned to the topic of how Americans treated the Indians. “Tragically,” he said, “the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected.”
“Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present,” he acknowledged.
“Nonetheless,” Francis said, “when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our neighbors and everything around us.”
The Pope urged Americans to reject “a mindset of hostility” in regard to immigrants and those who wish to make a future in this country.
Francis said that “thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children?”
“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,” he said, “in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal.”
Rather than discarding “whatever proves troublesome,” Francis said, “Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’”
“Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated, Francis urged. “Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves.”
“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 said.
On Wednesday, Pope Francis urged the Catholic bishops of the United States to open their doors to immigrants, asserting that “these people will enrich America and its Church.”
As a Latin American, the Pope said he apologized for “pleading my own case,” when speaking about the influx of Hispanic immigrants into the United States.
The Pope delivered that address to the bishops gathered for a midday prayer service at Saint Matthew’s Cathedral in the nation’s capital.
“From the beginning,” Francis said, “you have learned their languages, promoted their cause, made their contributions your own, defended their rights, helped them to prosper, and kept alive the flame of their faith.”
“Perhaps you will be challenged by their diversity,” he said. “But know that they also possess resources meant to be shared. So do not be afraid to welcome them.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome