In his address to Congress, Pope Francis praised the American Thomas Merton as “a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people.”
Merton was a monk, author and theologian who lived at the Abbey of Gethsemani, about 50 miles south of Louisville, Kentucky. His writings, beginning with his bestselling 1948 autobiography, are credited with inspiring many in the postwar years toward a deeper faith. Merton was also well known for reaching out to other faiths, meeting with Asian spiritual leaders and writing on Buddhism and Taoism.
“Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church,” the pope said. “He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.”
Merton was among four Americans the pope singled out as figures of inspiration, the others being Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln and social activist Dorothy Day.
The pope quoted from Merton’s autobiography, in which he wrote that “I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers.”