Pope Francis called us to “hope and healing, peace and justice” as he addressed Congress. “Summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises,” he said. “Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments and thus promoting the wellbeing of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.”
With his address to Congress, Pope Francis gave a call to action with a specific “to do” list: End the death penalty, poverty, hunger, rampant capitalism, the exclusion of immigrants, war, the arms trade and environmental destruction. He offered his call to action by invoking four great Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.
With Lincoln, he invoked the great liberator who ended slavery. With King, he invoked the great dreamer who imagined what we could be: more just, respectful, equitable and nonviolent. With Day, he called us to end poverty and hunger and pursue social justice and peace. With Merton, the monk and author, he invited us to the life of contemplative peace, oneness with creation and the search for God.
In a gentle way, he asked us to use the Golden Rule as our guide. The Golden Rule is mentioned in every religion and cited by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “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,” he said. “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. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.”
Then he got down to business. End the death penalty, he said emphatically: “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.”
Continue the fight to end poverty and hunger: “I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes.”
“I call for a courageous and responsible effort to ‘redirect our steps,’ and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity,” he said, urging us to end environmental destruction. “I am convinced that we can make a difference.”
Then Francis invoked Merton, who calls us all to be peacemakers, to make peace with ourselves and with one another. Merton spoke against racism, nuclear weapons, the Vietnam War and all forms of violence, and he often did this by dialoguing with others.
Invoking Merton’s way of dialog and peace, the Pope invited world leaders to end war. “Being at the service of dialog and peace also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer is simply for money. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.
“To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place,” he said. Francis wants us to refuse the money made from war and become peacemakers.
Pope Francis calls each one of us to rise above ourselves and get to work with the task at hand. He urges us to do what we can to end the death penalty, poverty, hunger, exclusion of immigrants, war, greed, the arms trade and environmental destruction. He calls us to be like Jesus and St. Francis, people of the Golden Rule.
We need a new national and global grassroots movement for peace, justice and nonviolence, and that means we all need to get involved. We must rise to the occasion as he has, to take a stand, speak out, take to the streets and keep moving forward toward a more nonviolent world. My hope and prayer is that all Americans, religious and secular, heed the call and do our part for “hope and healing, peace and justice.”
John Dear, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is an American Catholic priest nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. He has been arrested more than 75 times in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience against war, injustice and nuclear weapons.
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