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COLUMN: On Historic Papal Visit, a Call for Dignity and the Golden Rule

September 28, 2015
Weekly Column and Op-Ed
By Rep. Dan Newhouse

Pope Francis’ address to Congress last week was one for the history books: he is the first pontiff ever to address a joint meeting of Congress. As many know, as an Argentinian, Pope Francis is also the first pope from the Americas. This visit was his first trip to the United States. Regardless of political affiliation or faith background, Americans gathered on the National Mall and around their televisions to hear from the Pope. Political pundits may try to read the Pope’s address as a policy speech akin to a State of the Union address, but to me, the Pope was not concerned with scoring partisan political points. He spoke words of encouragement as a spiritual figure, not a political leader or elected official. The Pope’s message included many shared values that are fundamental to a compassionate society, including being good stewards, protecting religious freedom, and caring for the poor, the sick, and the unborn.

Even as a Protestant, the Pope’s powerful call, invoking the greatest lawgiver, Moses, to highlight the transcendent dignity of human beings struck me personally:

Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways 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.

The Pope’s words reminded me that preserving the just system of constitutional freedoms on behalf of the people whom we represent in Congress is the calling of all lawmakers. During a challenging time in our nation’s history, the Pope’s invocation of the Golden Rule from Matthew 7:12 is an encouragement to every person:

[The Golden] Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.

The Pope’s exhortation surpasses the politics of our day, and treating those we meet with dignity is a challenge that every person faces in our daily lives. Our nation was blessed to hear from this man of faith, and my hope is that we take the spiritual lessons of putting the needs of others before ourselves to practice.