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Pope Francis will have lunch with the homeless after address to Congress

Large crowds have greeted his Popemobile in Washington

Washington CNN —  

Pope Francis challenged America Thursday to embrace millions of undocumented immigrants and join a global campaign against climate change and poverty, wading undaunted into the nation’s volatile politics in a historic address to Congress.

Francis also called for a fairer world economy, the abolition of the death penalty, the protection of ethnic and religious minorities, the outlawing of the global “blood” trade in arms and the protection of the family in a speech sure to please liberals.

The speech underscored the emergence of Pope Francis as a global political leader – rather than a moral or spiritual voice alone. His boldness in staking out positions on the nation’s most pressing issues could reverberate through Capitol Hill and the 2016 presidential race in the months to come.

Practicing what he preached, the wildly popular pontiff, who has drawn thousands onto the streets along with blanket media coverage during his U.S. visit, then headed to pray and eat with homeless people and to pose for selfies with his adoring flock.

The Pope, who was greeted by cheers as he stepped onto the floor of the House of Representatives and received several standing ovations and sustained applause during his address, did not scold lawmakers – his tone was more akin to that of a sermon or a pep talk. But he did not shirk from delivering blunt political messages.

READ: Pope Francis’s address to Congress

He laid out an implicit counter-argument to some conservatives, including 2016 Republican front-runner Donald Trump, who believes that the more than 10 million undocumented immigrants in the country should be deported. He implied that to do so would repudiate America’s founding purpose as a nation born of immigrants seeking a better life.

“We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners,” he said, as Vice President Joe Biden and an often tearful Republican House Speaker John Boehner, both Catholics, watched from the dais.

“I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants,” Francis told the audience of lawmakers, top military brass, Supreme Court justices and Cabinet members on the floor of the House.

He made a clear connection between undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and the exodus of Syrians and others into Europe from wars raging in the Middle East.