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Students from eight Omaha-area Catholic high schools watch a livestream Sept. 24 of Pope Francis addressing a joint session of Congress in Washington, D.C. They gathered at Creighton University in Omaha. Creighton University photo

Francis’ address to Congress inspires students

When Pope Francis urged the U.S. Congress Sept. 24 to avoid bickering and even hatred that could smother the country’s past, promise and potential, more than lawmakers were listening.

"The pope had a really good message that we all needed to hear," said Nathan Singh, a senior at Creighton Preparatory School in Omaha. "He was talking about coming together. He was talking about solidarity and bringing an end to the polarization we often see."

Singh was among about 500 students from eight Omaha-area Catholic high schools who gathered at Creighton University’s Hixson-Lied Auditorium to watch a livestream of the first pope to address a joint session of Congress.

The students later discussed the pope’s appearance and current affairs through a question-and-answer session with Rep. Brad Ashford, D-Neb.

Mary Kiscoan, a senior at Marian High School, said the pope’s speech inspired her.

"As he was giving the address, I couldn’t help but scan over the crowd – all these young people taking it all in. We need to hear what he had to say. It’s time for people our age to open our eyes, realize what’s in front of us and take action."

In his speech, the pope gave the sense that he sees the United States as a country divided, one so focused on calling each other names that it risks losing sight of how impressive it can be when its people come together for the common good. That is when it is a beacon of hope for the world, he said.

Pope Francis called on Congress to "seize the moment" by moving forward with normalizing relations with Cuba. And, referring to himself as a "son of immigrants" – and pointing out that many of the legislators are, too – he pleaded for greater openness to accepting immigrants.

Describing political service with the same tone used to describe a vocation to religious life – "you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you" – the pope recognized the weighty responsibility of being a member of the U.S. Congress.

Dialogue, he said, is the only way to handle the pressure and fulfill the call to serve the common good, promoting a culture of "hope and healing, of peace and justice."

Pope Francis gave strong support to several concerns of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic faithful, including defending the right of people to publicly live their faith and join political policy debates from a faith-based perspective.

"Every life is sacred," the pope said, calling for the "global abolition of the death penalty" and the "responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development."

Singh said he appreciated the pope’s message.

"There was one part of the speech where he encouraged young people to lean away from what society is trying to make us into, break out of that cast and find a new path, a way to help people. That resonated with me."

 

Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service contributed to this report.

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