WASHINGTON • Some members of Congress said they had a hard time understanding Pope Francis in his speech to the House and Senate, only his second delivered in his non-native English.
But that didn't stop them from declaring it memorable and expressing hope that it would change the tone of political debate in Washington.
"It was one of those historic days you get a chance to reflect on once the day is over," said Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, who took video of Pope Francis leaving the Capitol for posterity for himself, and for his wife Shannon, who was a guest in the House gallery.
"It was such an historic event," agreed Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, who is in his first year in Congress.
"We are not supposed to take pictures on the floor of the House but I am pretty sure that almost every member of Congress violated" that rule, he said. Bost was among them.
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While the members applauded more than 30 times during the speech and lauded the pope for delivering it in English, Bost and Davis and other members said they occasionally had trouble understanding the Argentine-born pope, who read his speech softly, with a heavy accent.
The response to the speech may have lost any partisan edge because of that. The feeling could quickly disappear as Congress pivots from Francis' calls for more comity on contentious issues like climate change and immigration, to the prospects of a government shutdown next week if Congress cannot resolve a divide over funding of Planned Parenthood.
Members on both sides of the political aisle hope none of that happens.
"Can he come back next week?" asked Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. "It would be great if he would check in on a regular basis because I think his message is sometimes hard to hear in Washington. You know the simple Golden Rule, and caring for the least among us. I just think he was very inspirational."
She added: "What I really hope is that we don't use the pope's time here as another excuse to separate us. That was not what this was about. It was about inspiring us to live the words of the Gospel, which should mean we are not trying to divide."
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said he also liked the "hopeful" message and liked that the pope reminded him and others that "Congress should always remember that what we do here is more important than who we are.”
Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, agreed, calling it "a great and inspirational day" in which Francis "challenged us to do better in Congress."
Some things Congress already does rather easily. Three hours after the pope spoke, the House passed, by a 405-0 vote, a bill sponsored by Wagner that would rename the Affton Branch, Grasso Plaza Post Office, for Army Sgt. Zachary Fisher, of Ballwin, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010.
Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, said he believed Francis was "careful in his words to ensure that he caused no ill will between some of the divergent views in Congress.
"He reminded us that the United States is both an immigrant nation and a world leader," Shimkus said. "That unique position and power, as the Pope said, calls us to be compassionate and helpful. I think that’s a message we all need to hear and I’m glad he delivered it.”
But will any of it stick, given the showdown over government funding just ahead?
"We will have to see how it plays out," Bost said.