WASHINGTON — With over 11,000 ticketed guests gathered on the South Lawn, Pope Francis made his first-ever visit to the White House Wednesday morning, and called on the world to defend religious liberties and take better care of the environment before going to the Oval Office for a private meeting with President Barack Obama.
The leader of the Catholic Church was welcomed to the White House by the president and first lady Michelle Obama. After the playing of the Holy See's national anthem, the U.S. national anthem, and a short speech by Obama, the pope made his first direct address to the American people and challenged all Americans to be "vigilant" defenders of religious liberty.
"Mr. President, together with their fellow citizens, American Catholics are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination," the pontiff asserted. "With countless other people of goodwill, they are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and the right to religious liberty." more >>
And rightly so. After his election, the new pope rode back to the St. Martha guesthouse with the other cardinals rather than using the papal car. He chose to live in the guesthouse rather than in the opulent papal apartment. He regularly welcomes trash collectors and cleaners to daily mass, carries his own luggage on planes, and is driven in a Ford Focus.
According to Paul Vallely's recent article in The Atlantic, such humility is part of a deliberate strategy on Francis's part. In April 1973, at the age of 36, he became head of all Jesuits in Argentina and Uruguay. He was forced to confront a number of divisive issues, some theological and others political. By his own admission, his leadership style was divisive and autocratic, leading to significant controversy and opposition. more >>
The following remarks were delivered by President Barack Obama and Pope Francis during the Wednesday ceremony welcoming Pope Francis to the White House.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good morning.
AUDIENCE: Good morning! (Applause.) more >>
This week, the U.S. Senate is considering bills to ban abortions after 20 weeks; to defund Planned Parenthood; and to hold abortion providers criminally liable for failing to provide medical care to babies born alive. Despite this, Pope Francis reportedly will focus his comments during his U.S. visit on climate change, not life issues. Oklahoma Senator James Lankford finds this sad and puzzling.
Lankford, a cosponsor of the bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, spoke with me Monday about the pope's visit. He also addressed the pending pro-life legislation and the battle over defunding Planned Parenthood, which could lead to a government shutdown.
"I would be surprised if he came in and talked about climate change, which is not a biblical issue, but didn't talk about abortion, which clearly is a biblical issue," Lankford said. "The life issue is clearly one of those things that comes up over and over again in Scripture — the value of each human being. While there are many issues to talk about dealing with poverty, dealing with justice, dealing with protection under the law, certainly we can find common ground to be able to talk about the life issues. ... That should be a central part of the conversation." more >>
A number of Republican politicians have warned Pope Francis against "lecturing" them on issues such as climate change and capitalism ahead of the pontiff's major address at a joint session of Congress on Thursday.
"I think it's totally inappropriate that the Pope is weighing in on all the real sensitive, far-left issues," said Oklahoma Republican Senator James Inhofe in an interview with CNN. "I'm not a Catholic, but my Catholic friends in Oklahoma are not real pleased with it."
Rep. Paul Gosar, a Catholic Republican from Arizona, added: more >>
Vice President Joe Biden, a Roman Catholic, said that while he accepts the Church's position that life begins at conception, he will not share his position with others who do not have the same beliefs.
"I'm prepared to accept that at the moment of conception there's human life and being, but I'm not prepared to say that to other God-fearing, non-God fearing people that have a different view," Biden told Father Matt Malone, S.J., editor in chief of America magazine, in an interview published on Monday.
Biden admitted that it has been hard to reconcile the Democratic Party's support for abortion rights with Catholic doctrine, but explained that he cannot impose a "precise view" stemming from his own faith on others. more >>