Pope Francis to Urge Unity During D.C. Visit

Pope Francis will acknowledge the importance of Hispanics by celebrating Mass in his native language of Spanish during his visit later this month to Washington, D.C. But he’ll be speaking English during his much-anticipated address to Congress.

“It’s recognition of how large the Hispanic population in the United States is and what a significant part of the church they are here,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., told reporters Wednesday at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.

The next day, the leader of the Catholic Church will be speaking English in the first papal address to Congress. Wuerl, who has not seen Francis’ prepared text, said he expects the pontiff to reinforce his call for action on the environment and humanitarian issues such as immigration.

“I don’t think it will be by proposing public policy,” Wuerl said. “But I do think it will be calling us to understand that each one of us has a responsibly to reach other and our common home.”

Francis urged people to do what they can to protect the environment and reduce climate change in a sweeping letter, or encyclical, released in June. In the encyclical, he also called on nations who had the resources to open their doors to migrants and immigrants who feared for their lives and health in their homes countries. 

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was among the lawmakers who lauded the pope’s stance on the environment and called on government and industry to heed his message. 

Wuerl said Francis will also ask those who listen, lawmakers included, to find unity in his message and not use his remarks as a chance to slam opponents.

“That’s one of the things this Holy Father is asking us to try to get a little bit beyond,” said Wuerl, who will host Francis while he’s in the nation’s capital. That is, can we find some common ground without having to start immediately with interpreting it from the vantage point of the opposition?”

Pope Francis’ six-day trip to the United States will span Washington, Philadelphia and New York City. The pope also made virtual visits through video on Tuesday to groups Chicago, Los Angeles and McAllen, Texas. The video meetings are another “first” for Francis, the Argentine-born Jesuit who became pope in 2013.

Wuerl also sought to clarify the pope’s announcement Tuesday that all priests will have the ability to absolve women who confess to an abortion and seek forgiveness.

“The idea is that mercy should be as readily available as possible,” he said. “The Holy Father is just saying, and many dioceses have already done this, he’s saying why don’t we just make this universal.”

That doesn’t mean the church has budged in its opposition of abortion, which Wuerl said is “simply wrong,” or its stance on selling of fetal tissue. Some conservatives have vowed not to support any bill that would fund Planned Parenthood, following a series of videos that show top officials of the women’s health organization appearing to discuss the selling of fetal tissue.

“It’s even more heinous when use is made of the remains of a child that has been destroyed in the womb,” Wuerl said.

Corrected the day of the cardinal's comments from Tuesday to Wednesday.

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