WASHINGTON, D.C. (CNA/EWTN News) – Pope Francis rose above party politics and challenged lawmakers to a higher standard in his Thursday address to a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress, Catholic members said.

Just “his mere presence” commanded the respect of Congress, said. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.). “The fact that he is the successor of St. Peter validates the dignity of the institution and commands that everyone rise above petty partisanship and the rancor,” he told CNA.

“This day Congress took a pause from divisions and focused on higher things.”

The Pope called the members to a higher standard of governance, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said. “I love the way he set high expectations for us,” he said in a written statement after the Pope’s address.

Thursday marked the first time a Pope ever addressed a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress, and members expressed their awe at the spectacle. The very event would have been “unthinkable” even two generations ago given the history of anti-Catholicism in the U.S., said Dr. Charles Comosy, a theology professor at Fordham University.

“It was really almost unreal to see the Pope walking into the House Chamber,” said Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), “coming into the place that I work.” With the audience dressed mostly in dark colors and Pope Francis in white, “it was like he was glowing,” Lipinski added.

Pope Francis’ lengthy address touched upon themes of dialogue and respect for human life, the environment, and the family. He was interrupted repeatedly by applause even after members had been told not to applaud or cheer during the speech.

It was not a partisan speech, noted Rep. Fortenberry, but one “that pointed to the dignity of persons and the necessity of just structures that lead to the well-being of persons.”

We cannot “try and parse everything that he said to see where it fits on the political spectrum,” said Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.). For example, if Pope Francis “is talking about the economy, he’s talking about the morality of an economy,” she said, not the politics of it.

“He didn’t come here to talk about whether there should be a capital gains tax increase. He took our own values, and elevated them and made everyone see that the intrinsic values of our country have high moral standing, but we have to live up to that,” she added.

Dr. Comosy agreed. The speech, he said, did not follow “our lazy binary categories of liberal or conservative.”

As an example, he noted the Pope’s praise of Catholic social activist Dorothy Day, who “at once stood unbelievably firmly against abortion and would go to the mat against nuclear weapons and would welcome the poor into her home, a house of hospitality, but would be very skeptical of government programs.”

She does not fit the traditional liberal-conservative mold, and “that’s one reason why he invoked her,” Camosy said.

If viewed purely on the surface, the address could be interpreted as slightly left-leaning, said Dr. Chad Pecknold, theology professor at the Catholic University of America, in the sense that it “seemed to re-order the priorities in favor of what the left has been prioritized most” like care for the environment, immigration, and abolishing the death penalty.

However, he explained, it is in fact neither liberal nor conservative because it is foremost the speech of a pastor. It is up to the members of Congress to make policy from the principles laid out by Pope Francis – care for the human person and the environment and dialogue.

“Republicans on the right who can articulate conservative policy around the universal issues that Pope Francis identifies have the most to gain,” he added.

Congressmen loved the Pope’s appreciation for U.S. history and culture, expressed in his praise for four Americans – President Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, and Trappist monk and spiritual author Thomas Merton – for their exemplary character in helping “build a better future.”

He “really took in the history of our country,” remarked Rep. Lipinski.

Pope Francis exemplified “the brilliance of the Jesuits,” said Rep. Eshoo, “in this intellect that he has, that he would have taken Lincoln, King, Day, and Merton and woven the thread of each and what they represented to our country.”

By invoking these American heroes, Sen. Kaine said, Pope Francis told America that “you are a great nation and you’ve had great leaders.”

“This is who we are as a people. And in a world that still has huge needs, we have a unique role to do something about it,” he said.

Members were also touched by Pope Francis invoking the “Golden Rule” of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12).

Pope Francis stated in his address that the rule “also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.” At a press conference later on Thursday, the head of the Holy See’s press office Fr. Fredrico Lombardi emphasized that the Pope spoke for all stages of life including the unborn.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said this defense of human life at all stages, conception until natural death, was “necessary and important.”

The reference to the Golden Rule was Pope Francis “reminding us of our humility, reminding us of our obligations and responsibilities, talking about bringing people together and treating people respectfully,” said Rep. Frank Guinta (R-N.H.). It brought a “very significant reaction” in the House Gallery, he added.

Other parts of the speech touched different members of Congress. Rep. Fortenberry especially liked Pope Francis’ defense of the family.

“You can’t concentrate power in Washington and Wall Street and expect to have a healthy nation. It’s the other way around,” he said. “It begins with the most intimate form of community, which is the well-being of the family.”

Others saw the speech as a call to service. “He called us to selfless service, reconciliation,” said Rep. Smith, as well as “dialogue,” all of which is “much needed in modern society, especially in Washington.”

For Rep. Eshoo, her takeaway was that “we are servants,” and that “the closer you are to people, the more you will see the face of God.”

After the speech, Rep. Lipinski saw more clearly the connection between his Catholic faith and his job as a lawmaker, to “take care of every single person.” He said he hopes he lives up to this every day.

Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) is not Catholic but “appreciated” Pope Francis’ plea for Americans to see humanity in refugees, as the world faces the largest refugee crisis since World War II.

He brought up the fact that many religious minorities are persecuted around the world and suffer from lack of religious freedom, whom “we need to protect around the world” and “treat them as we want to be treated.”

Bishop Joseph E. Strickland has announced the following assignments for priests of the Diocese of Tyler.

The assignments are effective on the dates indicated below.

Effective October 15, 2015

Very Rev. Anthony McLAUGHLIN as pastor of Mary Queen of Heaven Parish, Malakoff (and continuing as Vicar General of the Diocese of Tyler).

Rev. Morgan WHITE as pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Marshall

The Diocese of Tyler Office of Finance will host two seminars to help parishes with year-end accounting and financial work.

The sessions will be held on Oct. 20 and Oct. 22 at the Diocesan Chancery in Tyler; parish representatives may attend either session.

There is no charge for the workshops and lunch will be provided.

Topics covered will include:

  • How to process 941 forms
  • How to process W-2’s
  • What information should be included on W-2’s
  • Who receives which form—1099 or W-2
  • Health Insurance
  • Reportable Health Care—Form 1095 (Filing Mandatory for Year End 2015)
  • Pension—Representative from Mutual of America

Registration is available online at: https://dioceseoftyler.formstack.com/forms/finance2015

Attendees can also print and fax the registration form (below).

For questions or more information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Jim Smith, who has served as finance officer for the Diocese of Tyler for the past 22 years, has announced his retirement.

Former Bishop Edmond Carmody named Smith, who worked in the insurance field in San Antonio before coming to Tyler, to the finance position in August of 1993.

“On behalf of all the clergy and people of the Diocese of Tyler, I sincerely thank Jim for his long service to the Church in East Texas,” Bishop Joseph E. Strickland said. “Jim’s tireless efforts were instrumental in helping our young diocese develop into a vibrant Christian community of almost 125,000.”

Chad Cleckler, who was named business manger for the diocese earlier this month, will oversee the finance office until a new finance officer is named.

TYLER – Bishop Joseph E. Strickland called the three newest priests of the Diocese of Tyler to listen to and care for the people of God “with great love, with great devotion, and with great strength in the Lord.”

See photos from the ordination>>>

Listen to Bishop Strickland’s homily>>>

Bishop Strickland presided over the ordinations of Deacons George Elliott, Nelson Muñoz and Joshua Neu to the priesthood June 27 in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

More than 800 people packed into the cathedral, which seats around 500, to witness the ordination.

During the liturgy, Bishop Strickland called on the three men to stand up, turn around and look at the people filling nearly every space. He spoke of the words from the first reading (Numbers 11:11-24), when Moses, beset with and dispirited by the complaints from the people of Israel, asked God, “Why do you treat your servant so badly? Why are you so displeased with me that you burden me with all this people?”

“You heard those words of Moses from the first reading,” Bishop Strickland said. “Embrace those words. This is a portion of the people you are burdened with.”

As the congregation laughed, Bishop Strickland added, “And what a glorious burden that is, to be a priest of Jesus Christ for the people of God. That is your call.”

The bishop also referenced the responsorial psalm sung during the liturgy, Psalm 89, and its refrain, “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.”

“Those are fairly simple words,” Bishop Strickland said. “And I can imagine some in the world would say, ‘Oh, that’s nice.’ But as a priest of Jesus Christ you are called to a great opera of the most profound and sublime singing of the goodness of the Lord. It is so much more than ‘nice.’

“You are called to perform the office of praising God,” he said. “This is not easy work, as your brother priests can tell you. Day in and day out,” he again indicated the people crowded into the cathedral, “they can be a cantankerous crowd. But they are family. They are our blood. We are their life, and they are ours.”

Bishop Strickland said “we desperately need that office (of praising God) in the world today. It was true at the time of Moses, true at the time of Paul, true at the time the Son of God walked the earth. We desperately need those who, in the words of John’s Gospel, ‘sanctify them in the truth.’”

The bishop called the three new priests to the commission from 1 Peter to “tend to the flock of God in your midst. Right here, in the Piney Woods, whether in Paris, in Hemphill, or in Gun Barrel City.

“Don’t you love Gun Barrel City?” he asked, eliciting more laughter from the congregation. “I’m sorry, visiting (priests) and deacons. Who else has a Gun Barrel City in their diocese?

“It is this people you are called to serve,” he told the new priests. “Tend the flock of God in your midst, this people. Listen to them. Care for them. Bring the universal reaches of our Catholic faith to these people, with great love and great devotion and great strength in the Lord.

Bishop Strickland also took a few moments to acknowledge the parents, both living and deceased, of the ordinands.

“Thank you,” he said, “for giving your sons, for cooperating with the Spirit in your life and allowing them to join the opera in singing the goodness of the Lord, in this place, in this time.”

The ordination coincided with the 34th wedding anniversary of Father Elliott’s parents.

“I don’t believe this was just happenstance,” Bishop Strickland said. “It’s yet another sign from God that we must celebrate God’s truth with marriage, with holy orders, with all the challenges and the glory that the Word of God brings us. We cannot abandon that truth, no matter what court speaks the falsehoods of the day.”

He said it is a great gift “to be reminded that we have the blessing of holy orders because of young men and older men formed in a family with a marriage. Your lives haven’t been perfect, but the Spirit has worked through your sacraments to bring a sacrament of service to the flock of the Lord. Thank you, and we celebrate you for the good parents you are.”

He reminded the three new priests of the great challenge they are undertaking.

“We hear in the Word of God of a ‘spotless victim,’” Bishop Strickland said. “We will hear it again in the Eucharistic Prayer. You are to embrace daily and ever more deeply the life of the spotless victim, our Lord Jesus Christ.”

That comes “through prayer,” he said, “through service to (Christ’s) people, through answering that phone in the rectory at 2 a.m., getting up for that early Mass and staying up for that late one. When someone asks, ‘Father, will you hear my confession?’ you are to say, without hesitation, ‘Yes!’

“That is priesthood,” he said, “that is serving the people. In so many ways it is an impossible task. I don’t live up to it, these men don’t live up to it, you certainly won’t live up to it. But with the grace of God and the goodness of the people, you will.

“Yes, they can be cantankerous,” the bishop said. “But there is goodness in them. Always remember that, always believe that. In every person you encounter, there is goodness. Call them to deepen that goodness and call them away from sin.”

Bishop Strickland then called upon the congregation to pray for the new priests that they might celebrate the sacraments of the church, “and that they might do so with abundant joy.”