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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.

“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 said of migrants from Central and South America, indicating they needed to be treated as people seeking refuge rather than as exploiting the United States’ porous borders.

In an apparent rebuke to politicians who have criticized the tide of undocumented immigrants, he continued, “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.”

Then, citing Scripture to drive home his argument, Francis said: “Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do to you.’”

READ: Pope Francis invokes MLK in nod to racial tensions

He called on often warring lawmakers to honor the example of their greatest national heroes, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln.

Francis appeared to reflect on news coverage of racial violence over the past year and a debate over the place of Muslims in U.S. society that arose in recent weeks.

Citing Martin Luther King’s “dream of full rights for all their brothers and sisters,” he urged Americans in the 50 minute speech to remember the civil rights icon’s legacy of “liberty in plurality and non-exclusion.”

Referring to turmoil tearing apart the Middle East, Francis warned the world was increasingly a place of fundamentalism and “brutal atrocities” sometimes committed in the name of religion, but he warned against a simplistic world view pitting good versus evil or “the righteous and the sinners.”

“We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within,” Francis warned.

Clearly conscious that many conservatives in Congress are skeptical that mankind is contributing to global warming, he called for a courageous and responsible effort to avert “environmental deterioration caused by human activity” and said Congress had an “important role to play.”

He also praised efforts in recent months to “help overcome historic differences linked to painful episodes of the past,” a passage that President Barack Obama’s supporters may take as approval of his controversial policies towards Cuba and Iran.

Amid criticism that he is overly critical of global capitalism and dismisses its place in lifting millions of people out of poverty, Francis acknowledged that “business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world.”