Navigate to News section

Pope Francis Addresses Congress, Says Their Work is Reflective of Moses

The pontiff makes his rounds, sometimes in a little black Fiat, causing gridlock and fervor

Jonathan Zalman
September 24, 2015

To close the first leg of Pope Francis’s U.S. tour in Washington D.C., where he’s traveled via a little black Fiat, the pontiff addressed a joint meeting of Congress on Thursday, becoming the first pope to do so. His speech, which appeared to move House Speaker John Boehner to tears, “beseeched a nation that generates a disproportionate share of the world’s wealth to not let money drive its decisions at the expense of humanity,” reported The New York Times.

Said Pope Francis: “Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.”

During his speech (the full text can be found here), the face of worldwide Catholicism named a number of “great Americans…[who] were able by hard work and self-sacrifice—some at the cost of their lives—to build a better future”: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.

But earlier in his speech, Pope Francis’ said that the work of congressmen—representatives of “fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good”—has made him reflect on “the figure of Moses”:

On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.

A sculpture of Moses does in fact don the walls of Congress; it’s an image Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, like Pope Francis, referenced in his speech to Congress in March, but at the end, stating:

Facing me right up there in the gallery, overlooking all of us in this (inaudible) chamber is the image of Moses. Moses led our people from slavery to the gates of the Promised Land. And before the people of Israel entered the land of Israel, Moses gave us a message that has steeled our resolve for thousands of years. I leave you with his message today, (SPEAKING IN HEBREW), “Be strong and resolute, neither fear nor dread them.”

After a stop in NYC, Pope Francis will travel to Philadelphia on Saturday. It’s unclear how Moses will provide insight there.

Jonathan Zalman, a staff editor, runs The Scroll, Tablet’s news blog.

Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.