In remarks with President Obama at the White House this morning, Pope Francis stressed that he’s in the United States to support marriage and religious liberty while giving “words of encouragement” to Congress.
There were 11,000 ticketed guests gathered on the South Lawn for the arrival ceremony, along with scores of media, military and staff. Roads within a block of more from the White House were blocked off under a gauntlet of tight security.
Obama and Vice President Biden, along with their families, greeted Pope Francis when he landed yesterday at Joint Base Andrews. Out of respect for the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, no evening events took place Wednesday and the pontiff slept at the Vatican ambassador’s residence.
“I look forward to these days of encounter and dialogue in which I hope to listen to and share many of the hopes and dreams of the American people. During my visit, I will have the honor of addressing Congress, where I hope as a brother of this country to offer words of encouragement to those who are to guide the nation’s political future, in fidelity to its founding basis,” Pope Francis said this morning, referring to tomorrow’s speech to Congress.
“I will also travel to Philadelphia for the meeting of families to celebrate and support the institutions of marriage and families in this critical moment in the history of our civilization,” he said, referencing the World Meeting of Families that was the main reason for his trip.
“Mr. President, together we should never fear our 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 reject in every form of injustice and discrimination. With countless other people of goodwill, they are likewise concerned in efforts to build a just and vastly ordered society, respecting the deepest concerns and the right to religious liberty.”
That freedom, the pope stressed, “remains America’s most precious possession.”
“And as my brothers in the United States have reminded us, all of us to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it,” he added in the English-language remarks, a reference to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ fight against the birth-control coverage mandate in Obamacare.
Pope Francis then told Obama that he found his air-pollution-reduction initiatives “encouraging,” adding that “when it comes to the care of our common home we are living at a critical moment of history.”
He then stressed the urgency of reaching out to “millions of people living under our system which has overlooked them.”
He quoted the “telling phrase” of Martin Luther King Jr.: “We can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honor it.”
“We know by faith that the creator does not abandon us. He never forsakes his loving plan or repents for having created us,” the pope continued. “Humanity has the ability to all together in building our common home. As Christians inspired by this, we wish to commit ourselves to the conscious and responsible care of our common home.”
“…I would like all men and women of good will in this great nation to support the efforts of the international community to protect the vulnerable in our world and to stimulate integral and inclusive models of development, so that our brothers and sisters everywhere may know the blessings of peace and prosperity which God wills for all his children.”
Obama lauded the pope as the first from the Americas and “also the first pontiff to share an encyclical to a Twitter account.”
“You remind us that the Lord’s most powerful message is mercy. That means welcoming the stranger with empathy and a truly open heart, from the refugee who flees war-torn lands to the immigrant who leaves home in search of a better life,” Obama said.
“…Here in the United States, we cherish religious liberty. It was the basis for so much of what brought us together. And here in the United States, we cherish our religious liberty. But around the world, at this very moment, children of God, including Christians, are targeted and killed because of their faith, believers are prevented from gathering at their places of worship, and the faithful are imprisoned and churches are destroyed. So we stand with you in defense of religious freedom and interfaith dialogue, knowing that people everywhere must be able to live out their faith free from fear and free from intimidation.”
Obama praised the pope for reminding the country “that we have a sacred obligation to protect our planet, God’s magnificent gift to us.”
“Your Holiness, in your words and deeds you set a profound moral example. And in these gentle but firm reminders of our obligations to God and one another, you are shaking as out of our complacency,” he continued. “All of us may at times experience discomfort when we contemplate the distance between how we lead our daily lives and what we know to be true, what we know to be right. I believe such discomfort is a blessing, for it points to something better.”
Pope Francis was led to the Oval Office for a one-on-one chat with Obama, and afterward was going to take a spin in a Jeep Popemobile between the White House and Washington Monument.
He was then headed to the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle for a meeting with U.S. bishops.
Great joy to be with all my brother bishops as we wait with joyful anticipation for the arrival of Pope Francis. pic.twitter.com/8vMfgL26No
— Bishop Burbidge (@BishopBurbidge) September 23, 2015