WASHINGTON — Members of Congress who traveled to the Vatican for the inaugural Mass of Pope Francis praised the new Pope as a spiritual leader who presents the fullness of Church teaching in love.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said that it is “really an honor” to both “symbolically and tangibly represent the House of Representatives” at the Pope’s installation Mass on March 19, the Solemnity of St. Joseph.
Smith led a bipartisan delegation representing the U.S. Congress to the Vatican. Members of the delegation attended the inaugural Mass at St. Peter’s Square, which commemorated the Pope’s entrance into the papacy.
The delegation was assembled by Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, a Catholic who referred to the installation of the Church’s first Latin-American Pope as “a milestone in world history and an event of monumental significance to the millions of Americans who share in the Catholic faith.”
Boehner said that he could not attend the event himself due to his obligations on Capitol Hill regarding ongoing budget debates.
Instead, he appointed a group of representatives to attend the Vatican Mass, led by Smith, a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who is known for his adamant pro-life work and his strong defense of human rights.
Smith reflected on the new Holy Father as a “very strong” leader with “core convictions that are absolutely rooted in the Gospel.” He said that Pope Francis reminds him of what he would imagine St. Francis of Assisi — the Pope’s namesake — to be like.
“I love the simplicity,” he added.
Furthermore, as someone who is “profoundly pro-life,” Pope Francis will be an important leader in the ongoing “epic battle with the culture of death,” he said.
He also praised the Pope for the “emphasis he brings to the preciousness of marriage” and his focus on “re-energizing service to the poor and disenfranchised.”
In addition to Smith, the House delegation who traveled to the Vatican included Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., Sean Duffy, R-Wis., Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas, Jim Langevin, D-R.I., Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., and Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., as well as the House chaplain, Jesuit Father Patrick Conroy.
Lipinski, who is known for voting to defend life and marriage, said he is “honored to have the opportunity” to represent Congress and his home district.
“As a Catholic, this is especially meaningful to me,” Lipinski said. “Pope Francis has demonstrated both humility and strength. I pray for the Holy Spirit to guide him as he leads the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.”
Reflecting on recent papacies, Smith said that the Church has been “so fortunate” to have Pope John Paul II and then Pope Benedict XVI, both “incredible individuals” who strengthened the body of Christ.
Now, he explained, the first Latin-American Pope will be able to invigorate an important region of the world that is largely Catholic.
Smith predicted that the Holy Father — known for both his compassion for the poor and his staunch orthodoxy — will be able to unite Catholics.
“In some corners of the Church, there has been this artificial division,” the congressman explained, noting that he is “gravely disappointed” when some people try to separate aid to the poor and defense of Catholic teaching on issues such as life and marriage.
Pope Francis’ witness and teachings can show people that these two aspects of the Catholic Church “are seamless,” Smith said.
“One is part of the other,” he explained. “When you care for the person, you care for the person in totality. That begins in the womb and ends at natural death.”
Smith believes that Pope Francis will lead many souls to the truth through his “wonderful presentation” of the Gospel.
Not only has the new Holy Father shown himself to be a strong leader, the congressman said, but he has a history of speaking the truth while “loving the person at all times.”
People tend to be open to the truth when it is presented in love, Smith said, pointing to the scores of young people who are gravitating toward the pro-life movement.
In addition, he said, the Holy Father will draw people in through the example of his life, because “his love of Christ just radiates.”