Audience Hears Something Different From Pope

U.S. senators, including Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (with hands on chin), listen as Pope Francis addresses Congress Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. In front of Sanders is Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota. (Reuters photo by Jonathan Ernst)
U.S. senators, including Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (with hands on chin), listen as Pope Francis addresses Congress Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. In front of Sanders is Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota. (Reuters photo by Jonathan Ernst)

Humility. Humbling. Hope. Inspiration.

Those who saw Pope Francis in Washington, D.C., Thursday spoke words not commonly used to describe speakers in the country’s capital city.

“I have been through a lot of speeches in the (House) chamber,” U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said. “It was not a political speech … it was just a simple speech.”

Klobuchar had better access to the pope than most: She joined a handful of others from Congress in escorting him around the Capitol, and received a special papal blessing for it.

“There are some senators with pretty big egos,” she said. “I have never seen them nervous.”

One episode stood out for Klobuchar as, after his congressional address, the pope was getting ready to make a few comments to hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall: “One of the security guards plucked this woman out with her baby … and he blessed this brand new baby.”

Klobuchar said it was a first-hand experience that proved this pope does care about people.

Protestant Klobuchar and other non-Catholics said they were touched by the head of the world’s Roman Catholics.

“Getting a blessing from the pope (even for this Jewish guy) is a great way to start the day,” tweeted former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., one of the many on the mall.

One of two Muslims in Congress heard Francis say that American leaders should treat people as more important than money.

“His holiness made it clear: When we prioritize people over profits and politics, America wins,” said Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., who took his mother to the speech. “Too many Americans are working multiple jobs and still scraping by at the end of the month. Too many migrants are being held in appalling conditions. And too many people are becoming sick because of air pollution and climate change.”

For some in the audience, the papal speech reminded them of why they ran for office.

“I became a public servant because I felt I had a mission to help those who don’t always have a voice and who can’t always stand up for themselves,” Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said. “For many, including myself, the genesis of that mission starts with a strong founding in religion and faith. Today, my faith and that of so many others was again renewed.”

For Tim Marx of Catholic Charities in the Twin Cities, Klobuchar’s guest for the 51-minute speech, the pope reminded him of Minnesotans, who are known for “advocating for social justice. That is so much a part of Minnesota’s culture and Minnesota’s history.”

In a church beset with a wide variety of problems, Marx said that the speech can give Minnesota parishioners hope. “His basic humility should provide hope.”

In the House gallery, Marx sat next to a group of nuns. “They spoke of their work with the poor, their work in health care. … So much of the work in the church has been done by women.”

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said he was grateful Francis offered “pastoral encouragement.”

“Pope Francis’ message focusing on liberty, equality, justice, dialogue as well as the reaffirmation of the family should be united issues for all Americans,” Cramer said.

For Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., the speech “reminded us that it is important that we cooperate with each other for the common good. Sometimes our differences in philosophy have been used to divide us, but Pope Francis today reminded us that these differences can make us stronger if we engage with a spirit of respect for the dignity of every human being.”

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said he already was a Francis fan.

“The pope’s message was one of tolerance and compassion,” Franken said. “He spoke about issues that are important to me, such as immigration, poverty and economic justice. I also welcomed his message on climate change, because I believe that it’s an important one for all members of Congress to hear.”

Those in Congress see the president deliver the State of the Union speech each year, as well as other world leaders who are invited to speak. But they said Francis’ speech was different.

“There really is no comparison…” Klobuchar said. “We have never seen anything like this in terms of the outpouring of warmth.”

The speech could have a lasting impact to a fractured federal government, she added. “Sometimes these moments do make a difference.”