In a historic address to Congress Thursday, Pope Francis made a point of trying to gently shepherd the legislators and others assembled away from polarizing rhetoric and action, something Congress has not been very good at avoiding in recent years.
Among his many messages in an almost hour-long speech that exceeded the planned-to-the-minute timetable of House Speaker John Boehner, Pope Francis issued a call for unity, political and otherwise, and an end to polarization that divides people into factions.
"Legislative activity is always based on care for the people," he said. "To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you. The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. 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."
"A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces," he added.
At one point, Pope Francis was talking about religious intolerance, but his rhetorical style is to speak to more than one issue or constituency and clearly there was a message for Congress as well.
"We must especially guard against the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil," he told his Congressional audience. "[O]r, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within."
His words were delivered directly to legislators who have become infamous for divisiveness, including the countdown to a possible government shutdown next week or, in the alternative, likely only a stopgap measure.
Less than an hour after the Pope had called for Washington to come together, and gotten rousing applause for doing so, the divisiveness was on display in a White House statement on a Senate (full fiscal year) appropriations bill that would keep the government open but defund planned parenthood, saying it contains highly objectionable provisions that serve a "narrow political agenda."
And so it goes.