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“We Are Living at a Critical Moment of History”: The Pope on Poverty, Immigration & Climate Change

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Pope Francis heads to Capitol Hill today to become the first pope ever to address Congress. On Wednesday, he spoke at the White House, then addressed hundreds of U.S. bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral. He later canonized the controversial 18th-century missionary, Father Junípero Serra — a move protested by many indigenous groups. The pope also made a previously unannounced stop to visit nuns at the Little Sisters of the Poor, which sued the federal government over the birth control mandate in the Affordable Care Act. At the White House, Pope Francis spoke about poverty, immigration and climate change. “Mr. President, I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution,” Pope Francis told President Obama. “Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation. When it comes to the care of our 'common home,' we are living at a critical moment of history.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Pope Francis heads to Capitol Hill today to become the first pope ever to address Congress. On Wednesday, he spoke at the White House, then addressed hundreds of U.S. bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral. He later canonized the controversial 18th-century missionary, Father Junípero Serra, a move protested by many indigenous groups. The pope also made a previously unannounced stop to visit nuns at the Little Sisters of the Poor, which sued the federal government over the birth control mandate in the Affordable Care Act. At the White House, Pope Francis spoke about poverty, immigration and climate change.

POPE FRANCIS: Mr. President, I am deeply grateful for your welcome in the name of the all Americans. As the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families. …

I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution. Accepting—accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation. When it comes to the care of our “common home,” we are living at a critical moment of history. We still have time to make the change needed to bring about “a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change.” Such change demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition not only of the kind of the world we may be leaving to our children, but also to the millions of people living under a system which has overlooked them. Our common home has been part of this group of the excluded, which cries out to heaven and which today powerfully strikes our homes, our cities, our societies. To use a telling phrase of the Reverend Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note, and now is the time to honor it.

We know by faith that “the Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home.” As Christians inspired by this certainty, we wish to commit ourselves to the conscious and responsible care of our common home.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Later in the day, thousands lined Constitution Avenue to see Pope Francis. At one point, a five-year-old girl, whose parents are undocumented immigrants from Mexico, slipped through the police barriers. When Pope Francis saw her in the street, he signaled to the Secret Service to bring her to the Popemobile. After he blessed her, she gave him a letter and a T-shirt calling for an end to the deportation of parents of U.S. citizens. Five-year-old Sophie Cruz had traveled to Washington with the immigrant advocacy group Hermandad Mexicana Transnacional. Afterward, Cruz said, quote, “I believe I have the right to live with my parents. I have the right to be happy.”

Seven people were also arrested Wednesday outside St. Matthew’s Cathedral, where Pope Francis met with U.S. bishops. They were protesting the church’s refusal to ordain women as priests.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the pope’s visit to the United states, we’re joined by three guests.

Janice Sevre-Duszynska is an ordained priest with the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. She was one of the seven protesters arrested on Wednesday. She’ll join us from Philadelphia.

Robert Ellsberg is with us. He’s the editor and publisher of Orbis Books, the American imprint of the Maryknoll order. He also edited and published the selected writings by Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. And he is the son of Dan Ellsberg. In 2012, the United States Bishops Conference endorsed the canonization of Dorothy Day to be a saint.

Also with us here in New York is Martha Hennessy. She works at the Maryhouse Catholic Worker in New York. She’s been fasting and praying and holding a vigil at the United Nations since Tuesday evening. She is the granddaughter of Dorothy Day.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Let us begin with Martha Hennessy. Your response to the pope’s first-ever visit to the United States? There were a lot of firsts in this first day visit. First time a pope will address a joint session of Congress, that’s happening today. Then he comes here to New York later today. He will be speaking at the 9/11 Memorial. He’ll be addressing the world body, the United Nations. He’ll be at Central Park. Then he goes on to Philadelphia.

MARTHA HENNESSY: Well, I think he’s the pope that we’ve all been waiting for in our lifetimes. He is very much like Dorothy in how he is speaking about world issues. I think that he is the most competent leader that we seem to have on the horizon here now. I think that he understands the problems and issues of structural sin. He talks about capitalism being the dung of the devil. And so, I am very pleased that he is able to address the issues. He is not just simply talking about poverty and climate change and immigration as problems in and of themselves, but he’s relating it to the structural problems that we have. And I think that war—war is probably the most important thing to understand in terms of structural sins. We have an economy that has been designed to survive on war making. And I think that—I love the way he talks in Laudato Si’, where we have been—

AMY GOODMAN: The encyclical on the environment and climate change.

MARTHA HENNESSY: Yes. He has come up with two encyclicals, The Joy of the Gospel and Laudato Si’. And he speaks to the joy and the beauty of creation, life that we have been given. And do we want our planet to look like to huge garbage heap, or do we want to take care of it and take care of ourselves and take care of each other? And he speaks honestly about what the difficulties are, and he speaks clearly about what the solutions can be. And that’s why I would consider him one of our competent leaders in this time.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Robert Ellsberg, could you comment on this first visit of Pope Francis to the United States?

ROBERT ELLSBERG: I think that Pope Francis really is speaking a different kind of political language than we’re accustomed to hearing, especially in this election season. He’s speaking the politics of Jesus, which is the politics of the prophets, who look at the world and look at society from the—particularly from the perspective of those at the margins, and judges the health or security or the value of an economic system by how it treats those who are the weakest and the poorest, rather than in this—our context, in which we put the emphasis on wealth creators and those who are job builders and that sort of thing. So, he’s bringing a very different kind of perspective, and I think, as Martha said, for someone like myself who has spent a great deal of my life inspired by the witness of Dorothy Day, I see him as the kind of answer to—of the Catholic vision that she represented in this country.

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Female Priests Stage Die-In Outside D.C. Church Urging Pope Francis to Open Priesthood to Women

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