Wednesday, April 16, 2008
I had the chance this morning to go to the welcome ceremony (just me and 12,000 or so of my closest friends!) for Pope Benedict XVI at the South Lawn of the White House. What a beautiful day in D.C.! Kathleen Battle was amazing. My favorite moment was -- during a brief lull, right after the Pope came out and met the President -- when a bunch of people (I think it was a cluster of Dominican sisters) started singing "Happy Birthday", and the whole (huge) crowd joined in. (Later, there was an "official" rendition.) The President's remarks were, I thought, appropriate. A bit:
Here in America you'll find a nation of compassion. Americans believe that the measure of a free society is how we treat the weakest and most vulnerable among us. So each day citizens across America answer the universal call to feed the hungry and comfort the sick and care for the infirm. Each day across the world the United States is working to eradicate disease, alleviate poverty, promote peace and bring the light of hope to places still mired in the darkness of tyranny and despair.
Here in America you'll find a nation that welcomes the role of faith in the public square. When our Founders declared our nation's independence, they rested their case on an appeal to the "laws of nature, and of nature's God." We believe in religious liberty. We also believe that a love for freedom and a common moral law are written into every human heart, and that these constitute the firm foundation on which any successful free society must be built.
The biggest applause line was this one:
In a world where some treat life as something to be debased and discarded, we need your message that all human life is sacred, and that "each of us is willed, each of us is loved" -- (applause) -- and your message that "each of us is willed, each of us is loved, and each of us is necessary."
The Pope's talk (scroll down) was brief, but bursting with great content, about freedom, truth, and solidarity. I particularly liked this:
As the nation faces the increasingly complex political and ethical issues of our time, I am confident that the American people will find in their religious beliefs a precious source of insight and an inspiration to pursue reasoned, responsible and respectful dialogue in the effort to build a more human and free society.
Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience -- almost every town in this country has its monuments honoring those who sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad. The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good, and a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate. It also demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one's deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate.
In a word, freedom is ever new. It is a challenge held out to each generation, and it must constantly be won over for the cause of good. Few have understood this as clearly as the late Pope John Paul II. In reflecting on the spiritual victory of freedom over totalitarianism in his native Poland and in Eastern Europe, he reminded us that history shows time and again that "in a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation," and a democracy without values can lose its very soul. Those prophetic words in some sense echo the conviction of President Washington, expressed in his Farewell Address, that religion and morality represent "indispensable supports" of political prosperity.
I'm looking forward to hearing about the Pope's talk at CUA, about Catholic education.