Pope Francis did comment on important issues for the Church and society during this visit – many of which were directly taken from his encyclical Laudato Si’. Some people with whom I’ve spoken were shaken by what they perceived as a distinct lack of conviction before Congress. There was no hammering down on the Planned Parenthood scandal, not once was the word abortion mentioned, nothing explicit about gay marriage. And the banter from the critics was that this was a missed opportunity, this was the audience that needed hear the doctrine professed loudly and clearly. Our elected officials with the power to change unjust laws, and the audiences in attendance and listening via the media who may suffer from a divided heart on these issues due to ignorance or faulty teaching needed to hear the teachings.
Many were discouraged, and even disgusted.
I, too, had some misgivings about his delivery of Catholic content in the speech to Congress. Where was the authoritative presence that wrote: “Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a “culture of care” (Laudato Si’ 231)?
Reality check -- this was just the beginning. There was more to come, and I rested my hope there.
“He’s not done,” I thought to myself, “pray and stay hopeful.”
That’s what I did, and many, many others did, as well.
It was a visit that built in momentum. In his address to the UN the following day, the pope came through, touching on all the hot button issues that weren’t mentioned explicitly in the Congressional address. Quoting from the Papal Encyclical, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis drove home this essential point regarding respect for marriage and life:
Consequently, the defence of the environment and the fight against exclusion demand that we recognize a moral law written into human nature itself, one which includes the natural difference between man and woman and absolute respect for life in all its stages and dimensions (cf. Laudato Si’ 123, 136, 155).
This quote, among others, made clear to the world that the Church’s teachings on life and marriage will not and cannot change. Justice demands that we give to others what they are due; this means that we offer them the truth with compassion and mercy, and always in the context of charity.
He spoke about how exclusion is a primary cause of great concern. The Pope noted that we have become a disposable people:
Economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment. The poorest are those who suffer most from such offenses, for three serious reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing “culture of waste” (Papal Address to the United Nations, 9/25/15).Pope Francis didn’t want to spend this wisdom exclusively on the US Congress – this was a message for the world. He took the world stage and he laid the enormity of the moral complexities that surround our world on the shoulders of all those who lead. He identified the global crosses and asked the world leaders to pick them up and carry them forward.
His journey from Washington, D.C. to New York and the development of his comments spoke volumes about his concern for the universality of the Church’s teachings and about his inordinate care for his flock – all peoples. Eliminating the culture of waste and becoming a culture of care is a work for all mankind, no exclusions.
This pattern of building momentum must also inform the hearts and minds of those who were puzzled by what they witnessed and/or heard in Philadelphia.
His comments there were meant to enliven the dialogue for the upcoming Synod on the Family which opens October 4th. He is not spending all his wisdom yet, but there was a pearl shared in Pope Francis’ press conference on the journey back to Rome:
Pope Francis was asked about his decision to streamline the process for declaring the nullity of marriages. He insisted the change was strictly juridical and not doctrinal. It is not ‘Catholic divorce’ he said. The annulment process needed reform because with automatic appeals ‘there were processes that lasted 10-15 years.’
There is more to come. And just as the UN address did not disappoint, I am of the hope and conviction that we will see the same building of momentum from the World Meeting of Families to the Synod.