Capitol Steps: Walking in Faith for the Children


Los personajes más importantes que hay aquí…los niños” So declared Pope Francis from the balcony of the US Capitol building.

After addressing Congress for an hour in English, his fourth best language, I’m sure speaking Spanish to the 50,000 of us who watched his address via jumbotron outside on the West Lawn was a relief. His words declaring the importance of children were few but quite moving. It was one of the two times I cried during the 3 ½ hours I stood there that morning.

I thought of the children in the before school program I volunteer for and other children in our congregation and community growing up today. I thought about the children of tomorrow like my 1st grandchild, who is due in January.

If the children are the most important, then what does that mean for those of us charged with their care and protection? For the Pope, in that moment, it meant offering simple words of blessing for los niños. For me, it may mean

“To whom much is given, much is required.”

I feel like those few words spoken in Spanish by Pope Francis in the middle of my 3 event-filled days in Washington, DC encapsulates a change which seems to be taking shape in my life; something like a vow I need to take or a calling I need to answer.

The day before the Pope’s historic address was Yom Kippur. I decided to fast that day along with my Jewish brothers and sisters. I then gathered with about 200 persons for an outdoor service, ending with the blowing of shofars at sundown. The rabbi who presided over the last part of the ceremony challenged us to silently make resolutions for the coming year and to consider what the first step should be in keeping them. I thought of 2 resolutions, but am still struggling to know what steps to take. That probably means my aspirations to improve my life this year aren’t really commitments yet. As Pope Francis would say:”Pray for me.”


Pope Francis also had a few words about steps in his address to Congress. Referring to his powerful encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home, distributed to Catholics and others around the world in June, he told our lawmakers:

“In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to “redirect our steps” (ibid., 61), and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a “culture of care” (ibid., 231) and “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature” (ibid., 139).

The evening of the Pope’s address I had dinner with a few friends and then decided to accompany them to the National Cathedral for the opening worship of a conference entitled “Coming Together in faith on climate: Religious Leaders Support and Extend the Pope’s Call to Action.” About a dozen faith leaders from the Muslim, Jewish, Evangelical Christian, Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant communities spoke, offered prayers or led singing in that worship service.

The next day scores of faith leaders, including the heads of at least 3 denominations, would make a pledge at this conference. Their pledge begins: “We agree with Pope Francis that we have a moral obligation to take action today on climate change and build a sustainable future for our children.”


My 3 days in Washington DC ended in front of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) office building, 888 First Street, N.E. on Friday September 25th. There, at noon, I joined about 100 persons for a closing ceremony on the sidewalk and in the streets to mark the end of an 18 day water-only fast (Fast for No New Permits) completed by 10 activists of Beyond Extreme Energy (BXE) I felt humbled by their level of commitment. More than half of them were in my age group. In addition to their strenuous fast, they maintained a daily vigil in front of FERC with a few even sleeping there.

FERC, you may know, is the agency that approves (never seems to deny) fossil fuel infrastructure permits, such as the proposed Atlantic Sunrise pipeline in Lancaster County. But caring for and protecting children  during a time of ‘environmental deteriation caused by human activity” means it is urgent to ‘redirect our steps’ by stopping the carbon and methane emissions and transitioning to a clean energy economy. Stabilizing the climate means rubber stamp approvals of every infrastructure application from big gas and oil must end now.

Those 10 fasters demonstrated to me that the importance and urgency of this challenge requires extreme commitment until the task is accomplished. I did not fast 18 days like they did. But I did sing and pray with the fasters, broke bread with them, marched around the FERC building with them and watched as they presented 5 copies of Pope Francis’ powerful encyclical to a FERC security guard who promised to deliver them to the 5 FERC commissioners.

The current catastrophe in South Carolina reminds me that the weather extremes will not pause while I waste more time on inaction or non-productive action. Stepping up my game must begin today.

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