Pope Francis calls on US not to shun immigrants

In historic speech to US Congress, pontiff also warns that world today is facing biggest refugee crisis since WWII

The world today faces a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since World War II, Pope Francis told the US Congress yesterday, as he issued a powerful call for the country to look on immigrants with sympathy.

In a historic speech before a joint session of Congress - the first such address by a pope - he invoked "the golden rule" when it came to treating those currently fleeing war in Syria, and economic refugees in the Americas looking to come to the United States to seek a better life.

"We must not be taken aback by the numbers but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to the situation, to respond in a way which is human and fraternal," he said to loud applause from Democrats in the Chamber.

"We need to avoid a common temptation to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the golden rule, do unto others as you will have them do unto you."

The pontiff added: "Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. 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. 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 uses for us."

As he did a day earlier, he prefaced his remarks on immigration by introducing himself as a "son of immigrants". "In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future of freedom. The people of this continent are not fearful of foreigners because most of us were once foreigners."

Speaking in a Chamber that is witnessing increasingly bitter partisan fights, the Pope also brought a message of unity, urging all to guard against "simple reductionism, which sees only good or evil, righteous and sinners".

"The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another with respect for our differences, and our convictions of conscience," he said.

Still, it was clear the pontiff's 45-minute speech did divide the audience. His comments on immigration received loud applause mainly from Democrats in the House, in the same way his remark that the golden rule "reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development" drew raucous approval from Republicans.

The Pope, however, waded no further into the abortion debate currently gripping Congress and, instead, framed his remarks on the sanctity of every human life in terms of the death penalty.

He reiterated his call that the death penalty be abolished, and said he was convinced society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.

Thousands have greeted the Pope wherever he and the little Fiat he rides in have gone during this visit, and it was no different at Congress yesterday. Demand for tickets to get into Congress was so high that officials imposed rare limits, barring some who would normally be expected to get in.

Around 50,000 watched the speech from large screens set up outside on the West Lawn of the Capitol Building.

After the speech, Pope Francis wrapped up his visit to Washington by meeting the poor, and left the same day for New York.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 25, 2015, with the headline 'Pope Francis calls on US not to shun immigrants'. Print Edition | Subscribe