In a historic address to Congress Thursday morning, Pope Francis spoke directly and passionately to the American people about a wide range of hot-button issues, from income equality and discrimination to immigration and family life.

"Today I would like not only to address you, but through you the entire people of the United States," Francis said, speaking slowly in English, as he became the first pope to address a joint meeting of Congress.

" ... I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day's work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and -- one step at a time -- to build a better life for their families," he said.

"These are men and women who are not concerned simply with paying their taxes, but in their own quiet way sustain the life of society. They generate solidarity by their actions, and they create organizations which offer a helping hand to those most in need.

"Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you."

Cheers went up as the pope walked down center aisle of House chamber before his address before the joint meeting of the House and Senate. Pope Francis stopped to shake the hand of Secretary of State John Kerry.

"I am most grateful for your invitation to address this joint session of Congress in the land of the free and the home of the brave," the pope said, as more cheers erupted.

The 50-minute speech took on the feel of a State of the Union address.

It was interrupted 40 times by applause, including 11 times when the lawmakers stood to clap and cheer.

The pope drew the biggest response by remarking on the most contentious issues being debated in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail: immigration and acceptance of refugees, restored U.S.-Cuba relations and protection of the traditional family against same-sex marriage and children.

The chamber also stood to applaud the pope's nod to the importance of business in creating jobs and his call for an end to the arms trade.

The pope spoke of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s pursuit of "his dream of full civil and political rights for African-Americans."

"That dream continues to inspire us all. I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of dreams," Francis said, prompting members of Congress to rise to their feet and cheer.

"In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom," the pope said. "We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners."

He called for the global elimination of the death penalty and the need "to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development."

He spoke of "the right use of natural resources," and economic development that takes into account "all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty."

He called for an end to the arms trade and criticized "this shameful and culpable silence" on the subject.

"Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society?" he asked. "Sadly, the answer, as we all know, simply for money; money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood."

The "people's pope," as he has been called, had arrived at 9:15 a.m. in his Fiat and was greeted by House Speaker John Boehner in the speaker's ceremonial office. He was introduced by the House sergeant-at-arms at 10:02 a.m. and finished his speech just before 11 a.m.

Among the guests in the audience were Rosemary King, wife of U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), and Ellen Kelly Mohr, 89, a former Catholic nun who is the aunt of U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City).

The Rev. Stephen Donnelly of the Church of St. Patrick in Huntington was the guest of U.S. Rep. Steve Israel of Huntington and Louisa Nadia Lopez, a visually impaired 10-year-old from Bellport, was the guest of U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley.)

The pope was accompanied into the chamber by members of the leadership from both parties, including Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Queens), vice-chair of the Democratic Caucus.

The speech was broadcast live on Jumbotrons on the West Lawn of the Capitol

The chamber was packed, with Vice President Joe Biden, diplomats, Supreme Court justices and Cabinet members in attendance to hear what the wildly popular and controversial pope has to say.

After the speech, Boehner, vice president Joseph Biden, the president pro tem of the Senate, and other officials joined the pope on the Capitol balcony facing the National Mall and briefly addressed the crowd in Spanish.

"I am so grateful for your presence here," the pope said. "The most important ones here -- children -- I ask God to bless them. Father of all, bless each of them. Bless the families. Bless them all. And I ask you all please to pray for me, and if there are among you any who do not believe or cannot pray, I ask you please to send good wishes my way."

Francis will then visit St. Patrick's Catholic Church in the district and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, according to the White House. At 4 p.m., he will leave the nation's capital from Joint Base Andrews and travel to New York City.

After a 5 p.m. arrival at Kennedy Airport, he will deliver an evening prayer at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan at 6:45 p.m.