Pope Francis made a historic speech to the United States Congress on Thursday about climate change, immigration, the US' role in helping poorer nations, religious freedom and and “right to life” issues of abortion and euthanasia.
Francis was welcomed at the US Capitol on Thursday morning by Speaker of the House John Boehner.
The historic speech was delivered in English and warmly received except by some people who are opposed to immigration and skeptical about environmental causes. Francis became the first pope to address a joint meeting of both the Senate and House of Representatives and spoke to an audience of more than 500.
"Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War," he warned, referring to the wave of refugees arriving in Europe from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
"On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities," he added, referring to immigrants from Mexico and Central America.
"We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation."
After his speech to Congress, Francis is due to give another speech to a group of 200 people served by the Catholica Charities group. Following that, he will attend evening prayer services at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. The pope is planning to share a meal with homeless people later on Thursday.
On Wednesday, Pope Francis gave a speech to Roman Catholic bishops in Saint Matthew's Cathedral in Washington and called for sexual abuse to never be repeated, referring to the scandal as “the difficult moments”.
Francis arrived in the United States on Tuesday and met with US President Barack Obama at the White House to discuss climate change, calling Obama’s efforts against air pollution “encouraging”.
In June, Pope Francis called for “decisive action” to stop global warming and environmental degradation, mostly the result of human activity. Almost all scientists believe that global warming is caused by man-made greenhouse gas emissions, while many US Republicans doubt that claim.
Conservative Republican US congressman Paul Gosar said he would boycott the pope’s adress on climate change.
Gosar said on Wednesday, the pope should not "prioritize climate change over speaking out against religious intolerance happening across the world."
Francis in his speech called on US politicians to instead seek “courageous” and “responsible” solutions “to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity."
"I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States and this Congress have an important role to play," he declared.
Another Republican presidental candidate, Mike Huckabee, said Francis should focus more on prohibiting abortion and protecting religious freedom instead of climate change.
"I'm hopeful the pope will encourage us to stop the killing of one million American babies each year and end the criminalization of Christianity in this country, which Obama can control, instead of global weather patterns, which Obama cannot," Huckabee said.
Pope expressed his concern about the danger posed by religious and political threats.
"We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind," he said.
"A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms."