Pope Francis will likely discuss immigration in address to Congress

Pope Francis will address a joint session of Congress on Sept. 24 during his first papal visit to the United States. When he does, he’ll…

Pope Francis will likely speak about immigration when he addresses a joint session of Congress in September. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty

Pope Francis will address a joint session of Congress on Sept. 24 during his first papal visit to the United States. When he does, he’ll likely speak about immigration—one of the most divisive issues in Congress right now.

Pope Francis has made helping immigrants one of the cornerstones of his papacy. His first major trip as pope was to the small Italian island of Lampedusa, where he learned about the thousands of immigrants who drown every year as they try to reach southern Europe from Africa and the Middle East.

“We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery,” Pope Francis told the European Parliament after visiting Lampedusa.

The United States, where more than 11 million undocumented immigrants live, is facing its own immigration issues. Republicans in Congress are currently trying to block President Barack Obama’s efforts to allow millions of undocumented immigrants to stay and work in the country. GOP leaders also want to strengthen border security to keep more undocumented immigrants from crossing the border.

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Mathew Schmalz, associate professor of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., said he expects Pope Francis—during his address to Congress—will “emphasize immigration, as he did during his speech to the European Parliament.”

“He will speak about the dignity of the immigrant and how we should welcome ‘the stranger,’” said Schmalz, who’s an expert in the papacy. “I also think he will pair this with a discussion of the scandal of income inequality in a country as rich as ours.”

Schmalz added, “Obviously, Pope Francis brings a sensibility from the Global South and will challenge conventional understandings of Catholicism among our political leadership, which often fails to recognize that the majority of the world’s Catholics live in Latin American and that their voices and experiences will decisively shape the development of the Catholic church in coming decades.”

Eddie Carmona, campaign manager for PICO National Network’s Campaign for Citizenship, said he also expects Pope Francis will talk about immigration when he addresses Congress in the fall.

“I think the bigger question we would like him to address, really, is what our immigration system actually looks like and how it doesn’t put a value on the family structure,” Carmona said, adding that his group is concerned about how many families are being separated due to deportations.

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This wouldn’t be the first time Pope Francis talks about immigration as it relates to the U.S. He spoke about immigration last summer when an unprecedented number of unaccompanied minors from Central American crossed the U.S. borders. Many of these children were escaping poverty and violence in their home countries.

“This humanitarian emergency requires, as a first urgent measure, these children be welcomed and protected,” Pope Francis said at the time.

The pope also brought up the need for immigration reform during his first-ever meeting with Obama last March. This came a day after Jersey Vargas, a 10-year-old who traveled to the Vatican from California, asked the pope to help stop her father’s deportation.

Most recently, Pope Francis sent a letter to a group of Arizona teenagers, thanking them for helping immigrants at the border. In his letter, dated Dec. 19 and written in Spanish, the pope was responding to letters he received from Rev. Sean Carroll, executive director of the Kino Border Initiative, and Kino Teens at Lourdes Catholic School in Nogales, Ariz.

“Dear Brother, your letter and the ones from the Lourdes Catholic School students have touched my heart, not only because of the drama they describe, but also for the hope they manifest,” the pope said in the letter.

Besides immigration, the pope will also likely talk about other issues important to him, such as helping the poor and the need to address climate change. It’s also very likely that he’ll talk about why he supports the decision by the U.S. and Cuba to restore diplomatic ties.

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