Members and guests of Maine’s congressional delegation praised Pope Francis for urging political leaders to cooperate for the common good when he addressed a joint session of Congress on Thursday morning.

It was the first time that a pontiff addressed the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives in what has become a whirlwind visit this week to Washington, D.C., New York City and Philadelphia by the leader of nearly 70 million Roman Catholics in the United States and 1.2 billion worldwide.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said Francis seemed to embrace his address as a “teaching moment,” respectfully reminding the nation’s top elected officials of their basic responsibility to work together to make life better for everyone. Pingree sensed that her colleagues were receptive and responsive to the pope’s soft-spoken instruction, interrupting with applause when he began to recite, “Do unto others … ”

“He couldn’t even get through the Golden Rule,” the 1st Distric Democrat said in a phone interview. “He really held everyone’s attention. He covered it all, from the importance of the family to how we take care of the Earth. I think he really raised the level of dialogue in Congress.”

Pingree said the pope’s message reached beyond the halls of Congress to the working men and women of America, who struggle every day to make a living and provide for their families. He also spoke to seniors, to the young and to the most vulnerable members of society with a message of love, peace and justice.

“He called on us to accept and embrace new immigrants as they seek a better life for their families in America,” Pingree said in a statement. “And he challenged us, as Americans and members of Congress, to rise above divisiveness and conflict. His speech was inspirational and encouraging and I hope we all take it to heart.”


Pingree’s guest in the House gallery was former governor and congressman Joseph Brennan. An additional 50 of her constituents received tickets through a random drawing to sit on the Capitol lawn and watch the address on large video screens.

They included Betty Hilton of Buxton, who drove to Washington with her sister, Carol Letourneau of Biddeford. Both are lifelong Catholics.

Hilton, who is a locksmith at the University of Southern Maine, said she felt that the pope spoke from his heart and projected compassion and love for every single person. She called him “the people’s pope,” saying that she heard the Argentinian pontiff urge each person to make the world a better place for all children and families.


“I don’t think he held back,” Hilton, 56, said via email. “We needed a man from another country to come over here and tell us what we were doing wrong. We need to take care of people that are here and take a look at the violence here. All of my grandparents are immigrants, so I really appreciated what he said about that. We need to stop and slow down and take care of each other.”

Jim Britt of Cape Elizabeth was there with his 81-year-old mother, Pat Britt, who lives in Cincinnati and is a regular churchgoer.


“She was in tears when she saw the pope,” said Britt, 47, who works in public relations. “It was a very relaxed, very large crowd. People were really calm from the moment we arrived and were very respectable and quiet while the pope spoke. That all changed when the pope stepped out onto the balcony and people roared with love and adoration for him.”

Britt also was impressed by the pope’s reference to the Golden Rule.

“It’s how I try to live my life and what I teach my kids,” Britt said via email. “But the most satisfying part of that was who he was talking to. Those words were really meaningful because he was talking to Congress, which has been so dysfunctional.”

Sen. Susan Collins was among a bipartisan group of lawmakers who accompanied Pope Francis into the House chamber, walking with the pontiff down the center aisle.

Collins, who is Catholic, greeted Francis at one point, saying, “Welcome, your holiness.” He responded with a smile.

“It was incredible,” Collins said in a phone interview. “He has a face that when he smiles is filled with such joy and peace, it makes an instant connection.”



Collins said the pope issued a pastoral challenge to Congress to work together to improve life for all people in this country and to address crises around the world, including the Syrian refugees flooding into Europe and the conflict in the Middle East.

“It was evident that he had done his homework and saw his purpose as healing the divisions that have kept us from doing the work that needs to be done,” the Republican said. “This message really resonated with me.”

Collins said she was inspired by the pope’s message of “hope and healing, of peace and justice” and his focus on four exemplary Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.

“To me, that demonstrated the power of the individual to make a difference in the world and spoke to the best of America,” Collins said.

Collins’ 88-year-old mother, Patricia Collins, a devout Catholic who lives in Caribou, was her gallery guest.


“She was ecstatic,” Collins said.

Sen. Angus King pointed to the urgency of the pope’s message to confront the polarization of politics and ensure justice for all.

“If the pope has taught us anything today, it’s that we are one people, regardless of race, gender, economic status, or anything else, and that we owe to one another respect, kindness, compassion, and goodwill – fundamental values that transcend partisanship and politics,” King said in a statement. “We would do well to not only heed the pope’s words, but also to follow his example as we work to bring people together and solve our nation’s most pressing problems.”

King, an independent, invited the Rev. Michael Seavey, administrator of Portland’s Catholic parishes, to be his guest in the House gallery to witness the historic address.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican representing Maine’s 2nd District, said he was honored and humbled, as a Franco-American Catholic, to help welcome Pope Francis to Congress.

“In his speech, the pope stressed the importance of pursuing the common good, building a better future, and the importance of life and family,” Poliquin said in a statement. “As a single father, to a terrific son, I’m pleased the pope stressed the importance of family and am honored to represent our district on this historic day.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: