Pope Francis encourages building bridges to address challenges 
© Greg Nash

Pope Francis invited Congress and the American people to build bridges to meet the great challenges of our day. He urged us to build consensus around solutions to end extreme poverty, safeguard our planet, address inequality and protect human life at every stage of development. Inside the Capitol Rotunda and out on the West Lawn, you could hear a pin drop.

Around the world, more than one billion people live in an extreme form of what His Holiness called the "cycle of poverty." Thousands of children die each day from completely preventable illnesses. There are migration crises in Europe and the Americas, debt crises in Greece and Puerto Rico and unacceptable levels of violence from Baltimore to Baghdad. 


What Pope Francis intuitively gets - and what drives his entire Papacy - is that all of these tragedies connect to a single central issue: how the global economy operates. In his speech to Congress, Pope Francis referenced what he called "structures" that perpetuate conflict and tied those structures to the simple question of the well-being of the individual. 

He's right. Conflicts are fueled by bad loans made to bad people, by a financial system that allows criminals to operate in secret and by the instability caused by debt, tax and trade policies that push millions into poverty. Those are the policies we have to address. Those are the policies we need to build bipartisan consensus around.

My organization, Jubilee USA, was founded by religious leaders and Pope John Paul II to win debt relief for poor countries that were spending more on debt than on health and education. And we won - $130 billion in debt relief - in large part because we moved lawmakers to do what Pope Francis invited them to do today: get along. What other issue in recent memory united Jesse Jackson and Pat Robertson, George W. Bush and Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaEmergency infrastructure needed to keep Americans safe: Public media Kavanaugh conspiracy? Demands to reopen investigation ignore both facts and the law Congress is to blame for the latest ruling on DACA MORE, Rep. Maxine Waters and Rep. Spencer BachusSpencer Thomas BachusManufacturing group leads coalition to urge Congress to reauthorize Ex-Im Bank Biz groups take victory lap on Ex-Im Bank On The Money: White House files notice of China tariff hikes | Dems cite NYT report in push for Trump tax returns | Trump hits Iran with new sanctions | Trump praises GM for selling shuttered Ohio factory | Ex-Im Bank back at full strength MORE? The end result was millions of children in school who never would have seen the inside of a classroom, fewer children dying of preventable illness and thousands of new classrooms and health clinics.

The Pope invites us to renew that spirit of cooperation today. He invites us to work together to protect the most vulnerable. He reminds us that the stakes could not be higher.

Eric LeCompte is the Executive Director of Jubilee USA Network, a coalition of 75 national organizations and 400 faith communities advocating for economic policies that benefit the most vulnerable. He serves as an expert to UN working groups on finance and has advised the Vatican on economic policy. Learn more: www.jubileeusa.org.