Congressman John Katko (R-NY 24) was among those Pope Francis addressed in the House chamber this morning in a powerful, wide-ranging and history-making speech to a joint meeting of Congress.

The Holy Father urged the body toward working for the common good, drawing on the legacies of four Americans — Abraham Lincoln, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton — to underline the need to ensure peace, justice, liberty and respect for all people.

The atmosphere in the chamber before Pope Francis’ address was “electric, to say the least,” said Katko, a Catholic and a parishioner of St. Joseph’s Church in Camillus. “You felt the sense of importance and reverence in the air,” he said.

Pope Francis spoke to issues the congressman expected to hear about and was diplomatic in his delivery, Katko noted, adding that he was “heartened by the whole chamber’s reaction” to the pope, with Democrats standing to applaud respect for life and Republicans for clean air. “He’s transcendent. He transcends everything in life, especially politics. People looked like they were putting down their politics for a change and just respecting his message overall,” he said.

Katko said his main takeaway from the pope’s message was remembering those in most need. “It was about thinking of the less-advantaged, trying to take care of and think of the less-advantaged and how we can help them and keep that at the forefront of your mind,” he said. Regardless of political or religious affiliation, “that should be at the forefront of your mind and that should be what we strive to do,” he said.

What’s next for Congress, now that Pope Francis has addressed the body?

“I hope we use it as a springboard for more unity and less partisanship in Congress,” Katko said. “I’m not sure that will happen, but maybe, just maybe, a little of his goodness has rubbed off on us all.”

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