President Obama welcomed Pope Francis warmly to the White House today, but he didn’t hold back his attempt to shape the Holy Father’s teachings to fit his own agenda.
Obama told Pope Francis of his own experience as a community organizer and his time in Kenya, explaining that “I’ve seen firsthand how, every day, Catholic communities, priests, nuns, and laity feed the hungry, heal the sick, shelter the homeless, educate our children, and fortify the faith that sustains so many.”
“From the busy streets of Buenos Aires to remote villages in Kenya, Catholic organizations serve the poor, minister to prisoners, build schools and homes, and operate orphanages and hospitals,” he said, according to prepared remarks.
Obama also pointed out that, thanks to the Holy Father, the world is reminded of the importance of welcoming refugees, the damaging cost of war, the importance of diplomacy and the necessity of saving the planet.
“Holy Father, you remind us that we have a sacred obligation to protect our planet – God’s magnificent gift to us,” he said. “We support your call to all world leaders to support the communities most vulnerable to a changing climate and to come together to preserve our precious world for future generations.”
On immigration, Obama noted that Pope Francis taught the world to have mercy “from the refugee who flees war torn lands, to the immigrant who leaves home in search of a better life.”
To support his Cuban policy, Obama said he was “grateful for your invaluable support of our new beginning with the Cuban people.”
But Obama appeared to recognize Pope Francis’ qualities of humility, pointing to it as the center of his appeal.
“I believe the excitement around your visit must be attributed not only to your role as pope, but to your unique qualities as a person,” he said. “In your humility, your embrace of simplicity, the gentleness of your words and the generosity of your spirit, we see a living example of Jesus’ teachings, a leader whose moral authority comes not just through words but also through deeds.”
In spite of his questionable record on religious freedom, Obama proclaimed that he was a defender of religious liberty.
“You remind us that people are only truly free when they can practice their faith freely. Here in the United States, we cherish religious liberty,” he said.
Obama told anyone who might be uncomfortable with the Pope’s message on issues such as the ones he listed that they were being challenged by the pontiff’s fearlessness, attributing to him the character of an activist.
“You are shaking us out of complacency,” he said. “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 and right. But I believe such discomfort is a blessing, for it points to something better. You shake our conscience from slumber.”