WASHINGTON, D.C. — At the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast on Tuesday morning, Vice President Mike Pence revealed his Roman Catholic confirmation name. His choice of that name tells a great deal about Pence’s nationalism as an American.
“I was not only baptized in the church but I was confirmed, and I stand before you today as Michael Richard Christopher Pence,” the vice president declared. “Christopher” comes from the Latin and means “Christ-bearer,” but it also likely refers to Christopher Columbus, the man widely credited with discovering the Americas.
At the prayer breakfast, Pence spoke about his Roman Catholic roots, but he also emphasized the deep history of Roman Catholicism in America.
The vice president quoted Proverbs 22:6, declaring, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” This was a rather ironic verse choice for the man who might be the most famous ex-Roman Catholic in America. Pence famously rejected Catholicism to become an evangelical Protestant in college.
Nevertheless, Pence described his Catholic upbringing as “an eternal foundation in my life.” He described his history with a dash of humor that resonated well with the mostly Catholic audience.
— Tyler O'Neil (@Tyler2ONeil) June 6, 2017
“I did eight years of hard time at Catholic school — the name of Sister Rachel still sends a shiver down my spine,” Pence quipped. “Honestly, I was the beneficiary of an extraordinary Catholic education,” which he said “continues to serve and inform me every day.”
The vice president told a funny anecdote about growing up in a “medium-sized” Catholic family. “Being one of four boys was very convenient for Father Gleeson,” Pence joked, as the priest could call up his father at any time and “have a full team of altar boys ready for any Mass.”
“While my own faith journey has taken me and my family in a different faith direction, I want you all to know how much I cherish my Catholic upbringing and cherish the church,” Pence added. “In fact, I just attended mass with my mom this weekend when we were in Chicago with family.”
The vice president said that he grew up “with a front row seat in the Catholic faith,” which gave him “a deep appreciation for the church’s rich contributions to the fabric of American life.” Here his faith history and his patriotism combined.
“The truth is, Catholicism is woven deep into that fabric, it gives America a vitality and vibrancy that inspires,” he said. Pence noted that “even from the hour of our nation’s birth, the Catholic church was there.” He mentioned Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Maryland — the last signer of the Declaration of Independence to pass away. (Bradley Birzer at Hillsdale College wrote a wonderful book about Carroll entitled American Cicero: The Life of Charles Carroll.)
Pence was not the only speaker at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast to emphasize America’s rich Catholic tradition, however. Sister Olga of the Sacred Heart, an Assyrian Catholic Christian originally from Iraq, quoted the Pilgrim leader William Bradford: “As one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shown unto many.”
“It is amazing to think that from a small group of pilgrims, this fertile and fruitful land that we call our home began,” Sister Olga declared. “Indeed, for the people of good will and by the grace of God, all things are possible. Our forefathers faithfully have passed the torch not only to thousands but to hundreds of millions.”
Like Pence, Sister Olga referenced the long history of the Catholic church in the United States, mentioning many Catholic saints whom she called “the true expressions of the finest fruit of America’s Christian identity.”
When it comes to that Christian identity, Vice President Pence insisted that Catholics have a friend and ally in President Donald Trump. When Pence mentioned the Little Sisters of the Poor and the Mexico City Policy (which forbids federal funding for abortion overseas), he received an emphatic standing ovation from the crowd.
But the vice president concluded by saying, “Don’t so much pray for a cause as for country.”
“I’ve always been drawn to what Abraham Lincoln said when he was asked once if he thought God was on the side of the Union Army in our great Civil War,” Pence confided. “Abraham Lincoln responded, ‘I’d rather concern myself more with whether we’re on God’s side than with whether God’s on our side.'”
The vice president ended his remarks with a call to prayer. He paraphrased 2 Chronicles 7:14, the verse on which he swore the oath of office. “That if [God’s] people who are called by His name will humble themselves and pray, He’ll do as He’s always done throughout the long and storied history of this church and this nation, as the old book says, He will hear from heaven, and He’ll heal this land — this one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
While Pence might be twisting this passage of scripture, it was inspiring for him to connect it with the Pledge of Allegiance, and the crowd loved it.
Pence may no longer be a Catholic, but his speech inspired the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, and it isn’t hard to see why. Not only did he focus on the Catholic heritage in America, but he also voiced fundamental values held by Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants alike — pro-life issues and religious liberty in the United States and abroad.
Indeed, it was his stances on these very positions that arguably made him a better Roman Catholic vice presidential candidate than Hillary Clinton’s running mate, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine.
Trump was very popular at the breakfast, but Pence seems to have been the perfect pick to represent the White House at this event. He connected with these people of faith in a genuine way, even while acknowledging his rejection of the Catholic church, and that is quite an accomplishment.
— Tyler O'Neil (@Tyler2ONeil) June 6, 2017