Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago: Pope Francis brings needed dose of humanity, compassion to polarized America

Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday
Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday AP

We needed, as a nation, his uplifting words, his role-model gestures to the poor, the homeless and the children in whose company he seemed to feel most joyful.

We needed his ¡Buenos días!” greeting and inclusive blessing from a balcony in the Capitol, directed not only at the religious but at non-believers. He asked them to wish him well if they could not pray for him.

But most of all, we needed Pope Francis’ divinely inspired intervention before a warring Congress that has forgotten that its mission is to serve the people of this country and to be responsible stewards of the planet we inhabit.

He didn’t disappoint.

Putting forth the effort of an immigrant learning a new language, Pope Francis read his message in English, reminding us with exquisitely chosen words that we’re a nation of immigrants founded on democratic principles that others around the world can only dream of.

Those qualities are what bring people fleeing to our shores — and we must act “human and fraternal,” he urged, and not turn our backs to their plight.

From the moment Pope Francis began his historic address Thursday to the joint session of Congress, he tapped into the essential part of our national identity and made us proud of who we are and what America is — “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” A well-chosen phrase that transcends party, place of origin, spiritual affiliation and so many other divides.

And so, with the help of the Golden Rule — and evoking “fundamental values that endure in the American spirit,” the freedoms Abraham Lincoln secured and the dreams Martin Luther King fought for — the pontiff made his way to the topic of which modern hate in America is made of: Immigration.

“Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War,” he said. “This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation.”

He urged responding “in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome.”

Amen.

Words sometimes lose meaning in the face of noisy, hypercritical times, but with his fraternal message of “hope, healing, peace and justice” as the way forward, Francis delivered a spiritual manual for addressing what divides us.

The strength of Pope Francis is that he’s able to connect not only with Catholics, but with everyone.

The staunch haters ripping this country apart may not turn a new leaf any more than dictators will be deposed with his kind words, but for as long as Francis was in our house, there was compassion and humanity in the air.

And we needed that.

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