Lawmakers united by pope's compassion

Sep 25, 2015, 1:47 AM EDT
Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, making history as the first pontiff to do so.
AFP/Getty Images

For about an hour, the deeply divided lawmakers of the U.S. Congress closed ranks Thursday behind Pope Francis, the powerful and popular leader of the world's Catholics, writes Reuters.

Once the first papal speech before Congress was over, however, they retreated to their respective partisan corners, and offered up different interpretations of the pontiff's message.

If Democrats and Republicans could agree on one point, it was that they were moved by his compassion, manifested in his calls to help the most vulnerable and the poor.

"He spoke to our sense of humanity," said Democratic Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the longest serving Catholic in Congress. "It wasn’t a Catholic or non-Catholic speech. It was a 'remember who you are as people, act like that.’ So I liked it."

The Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, a devout Catholic, cried at several junctures as he flanked Francis.

Tom Rooney, a Republican representative from Florida, said the pope's message had extra meaning for him as a Catholic.

"It was a very special day," he said. "Boehner was tearing up before he even started speaking, so it was like, 'OK, here we go.'"

But there was some public grumbling in Republican ranks. Representative Bill Flores, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the largest conservative grouping in the House of Representatives, balked at Francis' wading into politics, such as his call for better treatment of immigrants.

"He said do unto others the way others would do to you," Flores said. "And I don't think other countries would like it if we crashed their borders and invaded their countries."