'I Pray They Listen': Reaction to Pope Francis' Address to Congress

Image: Pope Francis Addresses Joint Meeting of U.S. Congress
Spectators on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol building react as Pope Francis makes an appearance on the West Front Speaker's office balcony.Allison Shelley / Getty Images

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By Tracy Connor

Ricky Castillo liked what Pope Francis had to say about immigration — but he wondered whether lawmakers would heed the pontiff’s words.

“I pray they listen,” Castillo, a 57-year-old retired Marine from Stafford, Virginia, told NBC News from the National Mall after the pope’s address to Congress. “But I don’t know if they will.”

Francis, the first pope to address a joint session of Congress, called for humanity, not hostility, toward migrants from the Middle East and toward immigrants in North America.

Castillo said it was particularly important for the pope to speak on immigration because of the election season.

"It's like he said — we were all immigrants once," Castillo said. "Don't just build a wall — do something to help these people. I'm not an immigrant. I'm born and raised here in the U.S., but I care about the suffering of the immigrants."

Francis also invoked the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., which pleased Marla Jones, 50, who came from Baltimore County, Maryland. She said she’s not Catholic but is a big fan of this pope.

“He is all about peace and unity and love,” she said. “He is all about loving everyone like Dr. King.”

Ana Rocio Pimentel, 47, of Huntington Beach, California, was most impressed with the pope’s defense of family. Francis told Congress he was concerned that fundamental relationships and “the very basis of marriage” are being called into question.

Pimentel also liked that “he had the courage to tell the political leaders to get rid of the death penalty.”

Fifty thousand tickets were issued for the lawn at the Capitol’s west front, and legions more people watched on giant screens from farther down the National Mall.

After his address to Congress, Francis appeared briefly from a balcony. To roars of approval, he asked for the prayers of the crowd and good wishes from those “who do not believe or cannot pray.”