The Francis Revolution is crossing the Atlantic and coming to the heart of the nation’s Capitol. News broke yesterday that Pope Francis has accepted Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to address a rare joint session of Congress during his upcoming trip to the United States on Sept. 24.
This is the first time that a pope has addressed Congress and provides a world-class opportunity for the Holy Father to lift up the Gospel’s social justice message to the most powerful legislative body in the world.
So what will the Jesuit from Argentina talk about? Studying his nearly two-year tenure as the Bishop of Rome suggests that Pope Francis will focus particularly on the scandal of inequality and exclusion.
Last April, Pope Francis tweeted that “inequality is the root of all social evil.” The seven-word tweet caused an uproar in American media, but the truth is that Francis had been saying the same thing for years. In his 2013 letter Joy of the Gospel, Francis wrote “just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.”
With reports last fall suggesting that economic inequality in the United States is at its highest levels since the Great Depression, Pope Francis will likely call on our elected leaders to transform our economy into one where no one is left behind.
It’s important to note that Francis will be speaking as a pastor — neither a policymaker nor a politician. So he will not offer technical solutions to the myriad problems Americans face but will instead lift up Christian social justice values as a moral vision to guide our nation forward.
For Francis, this moral vision might be best described as such: people are more important than things. The pope often lambasts our world’s “throw away culture” — a time in which human beings are “considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded.”
“How can it be,” Francis asks, “that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”
“This is a case of exclusion,” the Holy Father says.
So while Francis might lift up inequality and exclusion, he will not do so in an esoteric way. For him, the realities of peoples’ lives are more important than ideas. Human experiences trump the dogmas of various political ideologies.
No matter what happens in September, one thing is certain: Francis will not accept the status quo. He will challenge the lawmakers of the United States to re-examine themselves and their actions against the highest ideals — those of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Christopher Hale is a co-founder of Millennial and executive director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. He helped lead national Catholic outreach for President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign. He and his work have been featured in Time magazine, USA Today, The Washington Post, CNN and Fox News, among other publications.