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Faithful in Chicago gather to watch Pope Francis address Congress

Several dozen people gathered at Old St. Patrick's church on Thursday to watch Pope Francis' address to Congress. | Ashlee Rezin/For the Sun-Times

Before Pope Francis began his historic speech to Congress on Thursday, Wes Dubin was hoping that His Holiness would say something to make the gathered men and women in suits squirm just a little.

Dubin, one of about 50 people gathered for a papal watch party at Old St. Patrick’s Church in the West Loop, wasn’t disappointed.

“He did a good job of getting under the skin of just about everybody, and that’s a good thing,” said Dubin, 67, who lives in the South Loop.

Dubin was referring to Francis’ remarks about the sanctity of life “at every stage of its development” and the urgency of tackling global warming, among other issues.

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And Dubin said he liked the fact that the pope repeatedly talked about the need for “dialogue” as the world confronts myriad problems.

“We need to be talking, not screaming, yelling or holding back,” Dubin said. “He’s encouraging dialogue from all parties on all issues.”

Most of those watching Thursday at Old St. Pat’s — one of several such viewing parties organized in the greater Chicago area — said they found the pope’s words both stirring and comforting.

Peg Roth, 69, of Old Town clutched a handkerchief to wipe tears as she watched her church’s supreme leader.

“I felt very affirmed,” Roth said afterward.

Roth said she was surprised the pope spoke so frankly of his desire for a global abolition of the death penalty.

“I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation,” Francis said.

Said Roth: “I didn’t realize how important that was, and yet it makes tremendous sense to me. You can’t rob people of hope, whether they are on death row or stuck in a cycle of poverty.”

Margie Perzynski, 67, of Lincoln Square, felt similarly.

“I was kind of taken aback when he talked about capital punishment,” Perzynski said. “I just didn’t expect to hear it. He needed to say it. We needed to hear it.”

Peg Roth, 69, a lifelong Chicagoan who lives in the Old Town neighborhood, watches Pope Francis’ historic address to Congress at Old St. Patrick’s Church on Thursday. | Ashlee Rezin/For the Sun-Times

Gina Orlando, 63, of Oak Park, went to Old St. Pat’s to watch Pope Francis’ historic address to Congress on Thursday. Several such viewing parties were held around the city. | Ashlee Rezin/For the Sun-Times