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Pope Francis condemns arms trade in speech to US Congress

Pope Francis called for an end to the global arms trade, saying that it is steeped in the blood of innocent people
Pope Francis speaks at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church on his first visit to the United States in Washington on 24, Thursday September 2015 (AFP)

In a historic event, the pope became the first pontiff to address the US Congress on Thursday, covering many topics ranging from his concern about climate change to the dangers facing modern families. 

The 78-year-old Argentinian pope went on to denounce the worldwide arms trade, calling the failure to end it as a “shameful and culpable silence”.

“Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society?” Pope Francis said. “Sadly the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood.”

“In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.”

The United States is the top arms exporter in the world, where it holds 31 percent of the international arms exports. Russia is the second biggest arms exporter, holding 27 percent of the market.

The speech came a day after Pope Francis met with US President Barack Obama at the White House in Washington. 

Speaking from the balcony of the US Capitol building, the pope was flanked by Vice President Joe Biden, Republican House Speaker John Boehner, and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.

Francis also spoke about the migrant and refugee crisis, which has been described as the largest wave in Europe since the Second World War.

“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. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal,” he said. 

He has previously called on all Catholic parishes to take in at least one refugee family, irrespective of religion. 

At the end of his speech, the pope asked the crowd to send prayers his way. He also asked for good wishes from those “who do not believe or cannot pray”. 

Later on Thursday, after arriving in New York, the pope expressed solidarity with Muslim pilgrims who died in a stampede on the hajj in Saudi Arabia.

"I want to express the closeness of the church in the face of the tragedy people suffered in Mecca," said the pontiff at the start of his homily during prayers at St Patrick's Cathedral.

The stampede killed at least 717 people and injured hundreds more at the hajj, one of the worst-ever tragedies at the annual Muslim pilgrimage.

"In this moment of prayer, I unite and join in prayer with our almighty God and merciful father," he added.

Pope Francis arrived in New York on the second leg of his six-day US tour, and was greeted by cheering crowds of thousands who lined Fifth Avenue to catch a glimpse of him in his popemobile.

Thursday marked the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha in America, where more than 1,800 public schools in New York closed for the first time in honor of a Muslim religious holiday.