Friday, September 25, 2015

The Pope and Congress--a first-person account

 As I mentioned yesterday, my friend Carol Roark is in Washington, DC, for three months while her husband, former Texas Congressman Lon Burnam, does some work for the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Here’s Carol’s account of the morning with the Pope at the Capitol, reprinted with her permission. I like the sense of immediacy.

Some of you may think it strange that I would make an effort (getting up at 5 a.m. and arriving at the Capitol by 6 a.m. and then waiting for three hours) to see a Pope. I think I even surprised myself with my degree of interest. Call me perpetually curious -- think that sums it up. The interest that he has sparked by being willing to speak about issues like the Syrian refugee crisis and climate change gives me hope. I don't agree with all of his positions, but I do respect him.

The crowd was very congenial, and I had a great time chatting with my nearby seatmates. Lon and I will likely get together with an attorney who works with the federal court system. She and I had a great time talking, and she is very interested in knowing about what Lon is doing with the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL). Security was so tight that I could walk off and leave my purse on the chair without worrying that anyone would bother it (or snag my seat). They even had border patrol agents from El Paso as part of the security detail - every uniform and flavor of "officer" that you can imagine. I was very lucky that Congressman Marc Veasey's office offered me the one "seated" ticket they had for the lower terrace of the Capitol. It meant that I didn't have to stand for five hours.

The Jumbotron and the crowd fired up with a scene of the Pope greeting well wishers outside the Vatican Embassy. One little kid dropped a piece of paper, and the Pope bent down, picked it up, and handed it back to him. Class act. We watched (much laughter and appreciative head nods) as the entourage made up of huge SUVs escorted the tiny Fiat on its way to the Capitol -- a great visual statement if there ever was one. The Vatican press corps was quite chic -- tailored suits and leather backpacks.

 The Pope gave his speech in English, which meant that he spoke slowly and deliberately. The crowd seemed to hang on every word -- as if waiting for him to mention their favorite issue so they could cheer. At one point, both Boehner and Biden (sitting behind the Pope) were twiddling their thumbs, but someone obviously sent them a message to stop -- because they both stopped at about the same time. As you'll hear in all the news reports, Pope Francis framed his message around the lives and work of four Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton and the values they advocated.

Lon told Anna Tinsley, a Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter, that I had been to the speech, so she was eager to talk to me to get a "local" angle. I'm not sure if I'll make the cut for tomorrow's story, but will be interested to see how she interprets what I said -- which was basically that the Pope has an important message to share whether you agree with him or not, and I think it is important to listen to what he has to say.

Photos by Carol Roark

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