Pope Francis is applauded by members of Congress as he arrives Sept. 24, 2015, to speak during a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Pope Francis is the first pope to address a joint meeting of Congress.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Pope Francis paid homage to Martin Luther King Jr. and his iconic march from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama, quoting the civil rights leader while addressing a joint session of Congress Thursday at the U.S. Capitol. 

"I think of the march which Martin Luther King led from Selma to Montgomery 50 years ago as part of the campaign to fulfill his 'dream' of full civil and political rights for African Americans," the pope said in his quiet manner, amid a rousing standing ovation. "That dream continues to inspire us all. I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of 'dreams.' Dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment. Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people."

Pope Francis used that point, and talk of MLK's "dream," to target issues surrounding immigration, a debate that has been very much at the center of attention in the 2016 presidential race. 

"We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants," Pope Francis continued. "Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation.

"We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our 'neighbors' and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this," the pontiff added.