Pope Francis has arrived in New York, where he will speak at the United Nations General Assembly. On Thursday he became the first pope ever to address a joint session of Congress. He urged nations to adopt the Golden Rule when it came to dealing with refugees, and used the opportunity to call for an end to the international arms trade. “Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society?” Pope Francis asked. “Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money—money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.” After the congressional address, Pope Francis skipped an offer to dine with lawmakers in order to eat with homeless residents of Washington, D.C. “We can find no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing,” Pope Francis said. We speak to Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK and leader of the Nuns on the Bus project.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Pope Francis has arrived in New York, where he will speak today at the United Nations General Assembly. On Thursday, he became the first pope ever to address a joint session of Congress. He used the opportunity to call for an end to the international arms trade, a trade dominated by the United States.
POPE FRANCIS: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money—money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Pope Francis also addressed the issue of refugees and immigrants in Europe and the Americas.
POPE FRANCIS: Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunity. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation, to respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you—do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
AMY GOODMAN: Part of Pope Francis’s speech to Congress also focused on poverty and hunger.
POPE FRANCIS: I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They, too, need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: After the congressional address, Pope Francis skipped an offer to dine with lawmakers in order to eat with homeless residents of Washington, D.C. Before the lunch, the pope made a few brief remarks in Spanish at St. Patrick’s Church.
POPE FRANCIS: [translated] I want to be very clear: We can find no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for the lack of housing. There are many unjust situations, but we know that God is suffering with us, experiencing them on our side. He does not abandon us.
AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the pope’s visit to the United States, we’re joined by Sister Simone Campbell. She’s executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice organization. She attended the pope’s speech before Congress and at the White House. She’s the author of A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community.
We’ll also be joined by Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International, as well as Robert Ellsberg, editor and publisher of Orbis Books, the American imprint of the Maryknoll order. He edited and published selected writings by Dorothy Day, as well as her diaries and letters, and has published books on Thomas Merton. The pope spoke both about Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day in his congressional address.
Sister Campbell, welcome to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with you. Just start off by talking about what the day was like yesterday. Where were you seated? What was it like in this first-ever address before Congress by a pope?
SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Well, I had the deep honor of being in the front row of the gallery on the Republican side. As you face the pope, it was on the right side. And we got seated in some kind of seniority way by who gave us our tickets, and so since I had Senator Barbara Boxer’s ticket, I had a front row seat. It was a lot of expectation, but one of the things that I really noticed was—of course, we got there early, we had to be seated early, go through security, find our way—but what I noticed was the eagerness of all of the participants to be community in our little area. And it ended up that I was seated almost exactly next to Cindy McCain, Senator McCain’s wife. And we had a lovely conversation about Senator McCain’s efforts on immigration reform. We talked policy. But mostly we talked about what joy and hope Pope Francis was bringing, that we could bridge—maybe bridge—some of these huge divides in our country, and be realistic about the needs that we’re facing. He brings a candor that I think was contagious.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Sister Simone, I was struck by his very strong words on the arms trade, which to me seemed to be the most surprising of all the issues that he touched on.
SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Well, I was, too, and that he called it out in such a clear fashion. But I think, though, for me, the one that was even more surprising was the way that he did the codewords for what usually conservatives think of as the abortion language—you know, protecting the dignity of all life. And it was very—it was kind of dear that the Republicans, who had been a little slow to stand up and applaud some things, they jumped to their feet and applauded, and then the Democrats were a little slow. But then he immediately went to the death penalty. And I really think these two issues are connected: Do we deal death, or are we really respecters of life? And it was in that context he was talking both arms trade and death penalty, and the dignity of all of life that we need to be respectful of.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to the pope speaking for the global abolition of the death penalty.
POPE FRANCIS: The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development. This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels the global abolition of the death penalty. And I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.
AMY GOODMAN: That is the pope addressing, in the first-ever address to Congress by a pope, the issue of the death penalty. He called for its global abolition. The significance of this, Sister Simone Campbell, as thousands of people sit on death row in the United States, over 3,000? One, Richard Glossip, has an execution date in the next few days, set once again.
SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Oh, it was hugely important. He also, just after that part, also said that I believe that the bishops were going to be greater advocates on this issue. That, I think, is key, that we have—just because he says it once doesn’t mean that it’s accomplished. And he’s keenly aware of the fact that we need to really stand up for all people. He also mentioned that we cannot ever give up hope for any one person, and that hope and the possibility of rehabilitation is always at the heart of our care for each other. So I think that his focus, his really lifting this issue to such a prominence, can help us move away from what’s really a medieval response to and a fearful response to crime. And too often, especially in the case of Mr. Glossip that we’re hearing, that this is—you know, he’s erroneously convicted. And I think that sort of horror alone should be enough, much less the dignity of everybody who may have committed these crimes. But how do we—how do—I think what he’s saying is that it diminishes our dignity to kill someone else, and especially when the state does it in our name. Then who are we? Who are we as a nation? And he was trying to lay that out clearly to call us to be our better selves.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Sister Simone, what are some of the issues that you perhaps had hoped the pope would address in this presentation, in this address to Congress?
SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Oh, that he hadn’t addressed? It was a little hard to think of something. I mean, immigration and economic justice are the two big issues that we work on in our organization, and he really clearly addressed both. I guess if there was anything that would have been—I’d like a little more specificity about would have been the huge economic divide in our nation. I mean, he spoke about it generally in the global context, but that it’s so keenly felt in the United States, that—and I’ve met so many people who struggle so hard at the margins, I just would wish maybe that their stories had influenced him a little bit more to speak more specifically of the U.S. But on the whole, I mean, it’s really hard to complain. That was an amazing speech.
AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, Sister Simone, before we wrap up, in 2012 the Vatican reprimanded the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the largest group of Catholic nuns in the United States, accusing them of promoting “radical feminist themes” and challenging church teachings on homosexuality and male-only priesthood. Your group, NETWORK, also came under investigation. What has come of these investigations? Actually, yesterday we spoke with one woman priest who was arrested in civil disobedience [Wednesday] in Washington, D.C., calling for women to be ordained. But what has happened in both cases?
SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Well, in those cases, that—we’ve all made nice. Pope Francis said, “End it.” And so, the censure was ended two years early. Everybody said they learned from dialogue. Our organization actually has never heard from the Vatican, either before or after, but I’m assuming that it’s wrapped up with Pope Francis, because the work that we do is totally in keeping with what Pope Francis does. But I have to say that if it hadn’t been for the censure, we would have never had our program, Nuns on the Bus. We would have never had our focus on poverty lifted up in our nation. And I think we really got a chance to help shape our national dialogue and refocus on the issue of those who struggle. So, while it was extremely painful, while I think it’s over and we’ve all made nice, and Pope Francis said that he loves the nuns, it also was a gift that got used for some good work in our nation. May we be able to continue.
AMY GOODMAN: And Nuns on the Bus are? Nuns on the Bus, explain that project.
SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Oh, I’m sorry. Nuns on the Bus are our campaign where we go around the country lifting up the stories of real people who struggle, and shining a light on the good things that are being done, and as well as the divides. And our latest trip just wound up just before Pope Francis came, and our theme was “Bridge the Divides, Transform Politics.” We’ve got to do it together.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. Sister Simone Campbell, thanks so much, executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice group, author of A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community. When we come back, Robert Ellsberg will be with us, talking about two of the four people that Pope Francis called out. He called out Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. You’ll find out who they are. We’ll also be speaking with Kumi Naidoo, head of Greenpeace International. One of the biggest issues that the pope has taken on in these last months: climate change. Stay with us.