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Pope's Historic Address Gives Hope to Freshman Legislator

“When the pope walked into their chamber to share the sustained standing ovation, it was electrifying,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) told NBC News.
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As the president of the freshman class of the 114th Congress, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) sat with his colleagues waiting to witness history.

Then, for the first time ever, these words were spoken: “Mr. Speaker, the pope of the Holy See.”

For nearly two minutes, the House chamber was rocked with applause.

“When the pope walked into their chamber to share the sustained standing ovation, it was electrifying,” Lieu told NBC News. “It was a proud moment for America, the first time the pope has come to address Congress…It was a terrific speech.”

Image: Pope Francis in Washington DC
Pope Francis enters the U.S. House of Representatives prior to a much anticipated speech to Congress in the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 24JIM LO SCALZO / EPA

If joint sessions of Congress are normally reserved for a State of the Union Address, this was more like the “State of the Soul” address. Pope Francis deftly touched on political topics such as immigration, the environment, and the military. He also spoke about the need to build “social consensus” for the greatest common good.

The pope’s biggest applause came when he invoked the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Members of Congress burst into applause before he finished speaking the line.

“I think people love Pope Francis because he speaks truth to power. He talks about difficult issues and tells us to work on the hard things, that’s why we love him,” Lieu, who is Catholic, said.

Lieu said he was especially happy when he heard the pope talk about the papacy’s June encyclical, “On Care for our Common Home,” when the pope boldly acknowledged the science that says greenhouse gases contribute to climate change.

“I think it’s a huge validation of those of us who believe that climate change is real and is a problem if we don’t address it,” Lieu said. “It’s fantastic how the pope characterizes the issue, which is we only have one home, and that is our planet earth. And we need to take care of it, and not just for us, but for our children and grandchildren for generations. It has to be sustainable.”

Lieu is trying to replicate the climate change laws he's helped establish in California, which calls for cities to use more renewable energy sources and for the EPA to reduce greenhouse gases by 40 percent in 2035 and 80 percent by 2050.

The pope’s call for politicians to seek consensus in problem solving is encouraging, Lieu said, especially when it comes to convincing colleagues about climate change.

“Though a number acknowledge the climate is changing, they haven’t gotten around to saying it’s caused by human activity,” Lieu said.