'Unity Through Kindness': Reaction to Pope's Congress Address - NBC Connecticut
2015 Papal Visit

2015 Papal Visit

Pope Francis' First U.S. Visit, Sept. 22-27

'Unity Through Kindness': Reaction to Pope's Congress Address

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    Local Lawmakers Witness Pope's Historic Address to Congress

    News4's Tom Sherwood reports on local lawmakers who attended Pope Francis' historic speech before a joint meeting of Congress. (Published Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015)

    Thousands gathered Thursday morning to watch Pope Francis' historic address to Congress.

    Jumbotrons were set up on the West Lawn of the Capitol and at Dupont Circle, while on the National Mall, the Moral Action on Climate Rally zeroed in on the pope's warning about climate change.

    "We're here to support what the pope is doing," said Ken Berlin, president and CEO of the Climate Reality Project. "We think the pope's presence can have a profound impact on bringing awareness to all the environment problems. It's a critical issue for all of us and the future generations."

    The rally was packed with plenty of peaceful protesting and citizens eager to bring awareness to the cause. Throughout the morning, artists performed and members of organizations spoke between about wanting to make a change in the world and spread love. 

    But the crowd fell silent as Pope Francis' address to Congress began, as the pope urged lawmakers to welcome immigrants, and also touched on issues of climate change, family and abolishing the death penalty.

    "He's a brilliant and eloquent speaker," said Michael James-Dermno, of Richmond, Virginia. "I can tell he was a bit nervous speaking in English since it's not his first language but he spoke eloquently. His address to Congress was important and I hope was received well by Congress."

    Top Photos From Pope Francis' U.S. VisitTop Photos From Pope Francis' U.S. Visit

    Ernest Moussi, originally of Cameroon but now living in Maryland, said the pope struck a chord Thursday.

    "He brought a message of humility and hope," Moussi said. "A message that says that after all the fighting, there is a time for unity and coming together. Because at the end of the day, there is no one more important than God. God sees everyone the same. Whether you work in Congress or in a factory or [are] the president of the U.S. We are all God's children."

    On the West Lawn of the Capitol, tightly packed crowds included students wearing Catholic school uniforms and people donning T-shirts bearing messages such as "Walk with Francis" and "I [heart] the pope," with a bishop's mitre substituted for a traditional heart.

    Mother and daughter Judy Heinrich and Christy Chavez had traveled from Marietta, Ohio.

    "He's bringing unity through kindness," Heinrich said of the pope.

    Chavez said, "He's more of a pope of the people. He's really showed how different he is by getting out and visiting with people and trying to embrace everyone, not just Catholics. He's trying to bring more inclusivity and unity to the world."

    Five-year-old Emerson Tosi, visiting from Memphis with her parents, Teresa and John, held a sign bearing the message, "Pray to Cure Fibrosis."

    Teresa Tosi lost her father and his four siblings to pulmonary fibrosis. She said she has a 50-50 chance of developing the condition, and her daughter is at risk, too.

    "You have to come here with an open heart and believe that you can change things," Teresa Tosi said.

    Emerson Tosi, 5, on her father John's shoulders at the National Mall, where they hoped to draw Pope Francis' attention to the plight of those with pulmonary fibrosis, on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015.
    Photo credit: Noreen O'Donnell

    Three women on the West Lawn brought their religious medals and rosary beads; one had a medal of St. Francis, the patron saint of the pope.

    They were sitting quite far back, but one of them, Patty LaMacchia, said it didn't make a difference. "Because you're going to receive the same graces and blessings from this experience as if you were sitting in the front row," she said.

    Mary Beth Lucas, a 67-year-old retired speech therapist from Martins Ferry, Ohio, said she was pleased to see so many young people in the crowd.

    "I think he's bringing people together for the church," she said.

    Whether people would heed his message would depend on their points of view, she said.

    "The liberals don't like some of his policies and the conservatives don't like some of his policies, so it evens out," she said. "But all and all I think he's someone who does try to bring everybody together."

    Jeanne Garofalo, 71, and her husband, Gary, 75, a lawyer in Washington, D.C., applauded throughout Francis' speech. Both said they were expecting more about inequality and protecting the environment.

    "I think he's wonderful but we hear what we want to hear," Jeanne Garofalo said. "He can say a lot of things and he makes each side think, '"Ah, he's talking to me.'"

    Megan Hast, a 20-year-old student from California State University in San Bernardino, flew to Washington, D.C., at the last minute when her friend Erika Flores was able to get two tickets for the West Lawn.

    “I cried,” Hast said. “It was just beautiful.”

    Flores, 21, who is in the capital from Cal State on a congressional internship, said she hoped Congress took Francis’ speech to heart.

    As for criticism that the pope has received about speaking out on combatting climate change and other political topics, she said: “He definitely needs to speak his mind. He is one of the most powerful men in the world, I feel, and being that he has so much power and he can influence other leaders, I don’t think he needs to stop. I think he needs to advocate for it more.”

    People passing through Dupont Circle stopped to watch the NBC4-sponsored Jumbotron there. Some sat on the grass, snapping photos of the giant screen.

    "I just want him to be honest about what's going on in the world, which he always is," said Sybil Barkett of Miami, ahead of the address. "I hope he doesn't hesitate to speak his mind."

    Christina Larson was passing through the circle. "I'm walking to work today and I don't know if I'll get a chance to see the news," she said. "It's kinda cool to see it on my way."

    In advance of the pope's address, Debbie, who didn't want to give her last name, said she was expecting "just a message of peace and love, not real political. I just want him to be him."