With turmoil in the Middle East and elsewhere, economic and other challenges at home, and divisive political rhetoric invading us every day, I’d like to focus on some of the messages we heard from Pope Francis, during his September visit to America. While all will not agree with everything the Pontiff says, I think we can learn much from his calls for peace, unity, inclusiveness, and compassion for those in need.
I found the Pope’s words quite moving. He reached out to everyone – regardless of our specific religious beliefs or political persuasions. He gave us lots to think about – ranging from the sanctity of life, the importance of family, the protection of our natural treasures, the cruelty of human rights abuses, and the lack of religious liberties around the world.
He urged us – in our families, in our work, and in our outreach to others – to always follow The Golden Rule: to treat others as we would like them to treat us – a message of profound simplicity.
The Pope offered these wise words in the first-ever papal address before a Joint Session of Congress. It was on Thursday, September 24, when the spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic Church, the first pontiff from the Americas, spoke to members of Congress. Justices of the Supreme Court and members of President Obama’s Cabinet were also present.
Thousands from around the country traveled to Washington, D.C. to take part in this historic event. My office had the pleasure of welcoming 35 of our Southwest Florida constituents that day. They watched a live telecast of the speech on the Capitol’s West Lawn, where the Pope later greeted them in person and blessed them before departing.
During his address, Pope Francis called for a more substantive and friendly dialogue in the United States, including in Congress, on the challenging issues of our time. He asked us to break out of a cycle of polarization and paralysis, and to instead work as a team toward the common good. He called on us to focus on those who find themselves without opportunity, especially those who are hopeless and in despair.
The words of Pope Francis reminded us that our nation faces a number of issues that merit serious discussion in the remaining months of this first session of the 114th Congress. I fully agree that we simply must find a better way to work together – as we strive to implement policies that strengthen our nation, protect individual liberties, and provide hope and opportunities to so many Americans who can’t find good-paying jobs today. We need to work more as a team, as we seek solutions to today’s challenges.
You sent me to Congress to represent your interests – with integrity, dignity, and in a respectful tone. That’s how I conduct myself, every day. My team and I came to Capitol Hill to apply our talents, leadership skills, and life experiences to make a positive difference. That’s made difficult whenever special interests stand in the way of honest, productive dialogue. And it’s particularly bothersome when the discourse goes over the top, in negative directions, and even personal attacks. We’ve got to find a way to disagree without being disagreeable. We are committed to help set a better tone in Congress.
That’s sort of what Pope Francis spoke about in Philadelphia, a few days after leaving Washington D.C. He focused on the importance of family – including the broader sense of family in our communities and in our work. He advised us not to “throw plates” at each other, and not to raise our voices in anger – but to instead listen to and respect each other. He asked us to strive always to be inclusive, rather than divisive.
As your Representative, that means my working with fellow Members, including across the aisle where possible, to find common ground on the important issues of the day. The American people are openly outraged that our federal government is so completely unable to get things done. You want us to work for economic growth – to find ways to better provide opportunity for all – to enable the American Dream that is the foundation of our nation.
All Americans deserve a fair chance to realize their potential. Of course, there are and will always be disagreements among Members of Congress as to the best approaches to achieve these goals. But that does not excuse the total gridlock you are seeing.
Somehow, we must find the best answers, in spite of the obstacles we face. Toward this goal, I promise to heed the Pope’s calling to treat my fellow Members as I would like them to treat me – with respect, while listening with an open mind to differing views.
I am honored every day to serve, and was especially honored to take part in the Pope’s historic visit to Capitol Hill. I will continue to do whatever I can to promote honest, robust debate with my colleagues on the House floor – as we consider the concerns so eloquently voiced by Pope Francis. I ask for your support and prayers in this work.
As always, please let my team know how we can better serve you. Call us in Washington, D.C. or in one of our district offices – or stop by and say “hi” when you are out and about. And please visit our website at: www.clawson.house.gov.
Congressman Clawson represents Florida’s 19th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He serves on the House Foreign Affairs and House Homeland Security Committees. He is the former CEO of Hayes Lemmerz International, the world’s largest manufacturer of automotive wheels.