Standing before Congress, Pope Francis issued a call to action on behalf of immigrants Thursday, urging lawmakers to embrace “the stranger in our midst” as he became the first pope in history to address a joint meeting at the U.S. Capitol.
Referring to the migration crisis in Europe as well as the United States’ own struggle with immigration from Latin America, the pope summoned lawmakers “to respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal.”
“We must not be taken aback by their numbers but rather view them as persons,” the pope urged.
He was welcomed to a House chamber packed with Supreme Court justices, Cabinet officials, and lawmakers of both parties. After the speech, the pope appeared on a Capitol balcony and briefly addressed a crowd of thousands on the lawn and the Mall.
The pope’s hectic three-day visit to Washington was the first stop on a three-city U.S. tour that winds up in Philadelphia.
On Wednesday he was greeted by crowds as he visited the White House and met with President Obama.
The pope advocated abolition of the death penalty, something that enjoys support from a number of lawmakers of both parties at the federal level, and spoke out against fundamentalism of all kinds, while urging care in combating it.
“A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms,” he said.
On immigration, the pope urged lawmakers — and the United States as a whole — not to be afraid of migrants but to welcome them as fellow human beings, not things that can be discarded just because they are troublesome.
The son of Italian immigrants to Argentina, he noted that America too was founded by immigrants, and that that new generations must not “turn their back on our neighbors.”
The pope criticized the arms trade, significant because the U.S. is the world’s largest exporter of weapons.
On Thursday, security was tight outside the Capitol, with streets blocked off and a heavy police presence that rivaled an Inauguration or State of the Union address by the president.
In New York City, the next stop on the pope’s trip, security screening will be just part of “layers and layers and layers of protection” the pope will receive during his visit. This includes deployment of 6,000 extra police officers and specialized counterterrorism units, said John Miller, the NYPD’s top security official. Police will also be “looking for, in the Boston Marathon example, where is the potential terrorist threat, not to the protectee, but to the crowd. And we have layers behind that,” Miller said.
In a related development, Gov. Chris Christie signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency ahead of the pope’s visit next week to manage public safety concerns.
The order signed Friday authorizes the use of the New Jersey National Guard if needed, and also gives officials authority to change traffic flow on roadways.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will run extra trains into New York City, whereas bus service near papal events will experience delays and detours. Street closings in Manhattan will force numerous bus lines to be rerouted between 3 p.m. Thursday and 10 a.m. Saturday.
The subways will run normally, but some entrances and stairways at Penn Station will be closed because of Friday’s event at Madison Square Garden. Numerous streets will be closed in Manhattan, some of them without advance notice, city officials have said.