Pope Francis was given an all-American welcome today at the White House. Upon his arrival to the South Lawn, the Holy Father was greeted by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
President Obama welcomed the Pope to the White House saying that “the size and spirit of this gathering is but a small reflection of the deep devotion of some 70 million American Catholics.”
He also praised the work of Catholic organizations in the United States who help the poor and disadvantaged. The President praised the Pope’s humility and embrace of simplicity as a living example of the teachings of Jesus.
“You call on all of us, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, to put the least of these at the center of our concerns,” he said.
The American president also expressed gratitude to the Pope for his role in helping the United States and Cuba re-establish diplomatic ties. He also expressed his gratitude for the Pope’s role in defending peace, religious freedom in the world and support in defending the environment.
For his part, Pope Francis thanked the President for welcoming him to the US. “As the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families,” he said.
Regarding his address to Congress tomorrow, the Holy Father said that he hopes to offer words of encouragement “as a brother of this country.” He also reiterated the purpose of his visit: the World Meeting of Families.
“I will also travel to Philadelphia for the Eighth World Meeting of Families, to celebrate and support the institutions of marriage and the family at this, a critical moment in the history of our civilization,” he said.
The 78-year-old Pontiff stressed the commitment of American Catholics in creating “a just and wisely ordered society”, while expressing their concerns in their rights to religious liberty.
“That freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions,” he said. “And, as my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.”
The Pope also applauded President Obama’s initiative for reducing air pollution, stressing the need to address the problem of climate change for the good of future generations.
“Such change demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition not only of the kind of world we may be leaving to our children, but also to the millions of people living under a system which has overlooked them,” he said.
“Our common home has been part of this group of the excluded which cries out to heaven and which today powerfully strikes our homes, our cities and our societies.”
Finally, the Pope lauded the efforts “made to mend broken relationships” between the United States and Cuba. Those efforts, he said, “represent positive steps along the path of reconciliation, justice and freedom.”
Concluding his address, Pope Francis called on the American people to support the international community in protecting the poor and the vulnerable “so that our brothers and sisters everywhere may know the blessings of peace and prosperity which God wills for all his children.”
— — —
On ZENIT’s website:
For the full text of the Pope’s address, go to: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/pope-francis-address-during-welcoming-ceremony-at-white-house