Washington - All five politicians who represent Long Island in the U.S. House of Representatives, and both New York senators, attended Pope Francis' historic address to Congress Thursday and came away impressed with what many of them called a memorable moment.
Pope Francis was the first pontiff -- and in fact, first mainly religious figure -- to address a joint meeting of the House and Senate, and he did it with an earnestness and solemnity as he slowly read through his prepared speech in English, a language that he is still mastering.
Many in the audience looked as if they were listening carefully -- Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) leaned forward in his chair, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) could be seen taking notes.
King later said he wished he had had a copy of the speech, not to follow along but just so he would understand the gist and direction of the pope's address.
"My main take-away is that you have to apply a moral dimension to everything you do," King said in a telephone interview. But he also admitted, "The tone of the pope's speech is much more liberal than I would be."
But King said he particularly responded to Pope Francis' call for Congress to have intelligent discussions about issues and to not be an absolutist on one issue when considering a broader set of issues.
Newsday asked for reaction to the speech from the LI delegation to the House and New York senators. Most sent statements. Here are full statements or excerpts:
Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington): "I've had the privilege of attending joint sessions of Congress with the President and world leaders, but being in the room while the Pope addressed Congress and the United States was an extraordinary experience. What really struck me was that he spoke to hard-working Americans who wake up every day striving to do an honest day's work, while calling on Americans to have a dialogue about the challenges we face such as poverty, climate change, immigration, and the arms trade. The Pope unified 435 members of Congress by touching on so many ways that challenge and inspire us - I hope that it wasn't just a speech, but a message, that my colleagues will listen to and act on while on the floor of Congress."
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans): "His Holiness encouraged Congress and our nation to forthrightly and compassionately address the challenges we face, and to prioritize the needs of children and the neediest. I was deeply moved by the Pope's reminder that we are all connected and have a shared responsibility to care for our planet, and to follow the Golden Rule, to do unto others as we would have done unto us."
Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City): "I feel truly blessed to have had the opportunity to see and hear Pope Francis in person. He inspired us today to hope for a better future, and challenged us to build that future and extend that same hope to the most hopeless among us, those trapped in cycles of violence, poverty and despair. He told us that 'their problems are our problems.' That's at the heart of everything I believe as a Catholic, as an American, and as a public servant, and I'll be hearing those words long after the Pope has left the United States. I wish him well on the remainder of his visit and I pray that he continues to inspire others as he inspired me today."
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley): "Pope Francis discussed a number of challenges around the world and his vision for solutions. Most importantly, in recognizing America's contributions all around the globe, his presence inspired unity, compassion and motivation, to do even more in the future to make America and the rest of the world a greater place... The Pope's visit to America is filled with inspiration for all of us individually, and as Americans."
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.): "The Holy Father's address to Congress was inspiring and uplifting to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. He has such optimism in human nature and in the future, and is calling upon our better angels to achieve the best goodness we can for humankind. It was a unique experience that I will never forget."
Gillibrand: "Pope Francis delivered a message of compassion, humanity and service that should resonate in the halls of Congress and across our nation. I hope we heed his call for unity to protect America as the land of dreams, and to build the future our children deserve."