Pope Francis says America’s “greatest wealth is its spiritual and ethical heritage.”
The Pope recapped his visit to Washington D.C. and other highlights of his recent trip to the United States Wednesday, saying that he “recalled the contribution which America’s tradition of religious freedom has made to the life of the nation.”
Wednesday’s papal address in Saint Peter’s Square followed on Tuesday evening’s news that while in Washington Pope Francis had received a visit from Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples, citing her religious convictions.
In their meeting, the Pope embraced Davis, thanking her for her courage and urging her to “be strong.”
The Pope also visited the Little Sisters of the Poor, who are in the midst of a religious liberty battle with the Obama administration over the HHS Mandate. Papal spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters that the Pope met with the religious sisters as “a sign of support” for them in their lawsuit against the federal government.
On Wednesday, Francis said that he had wanted to remind U.S. leaders “that the greatest wealth of the country and its people are its spiritual and ethical heritage,” built on the founding principle “that all men are created equal by God and endowed with inalienable rights such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
These American values “find their fulfillment in the Gospel,” Francis said, holding up the example of the Franciscan missionary Saint Junípero Serra, whom the Pope canonized during his trip. Religious freedom is not just freedom of worship, the Pope said during his trip, but overflows into one’s life in society.
“On this bedrock of religion and morality the United States of America was born and raised,” the Pope said, “and on this bedrock they will continue to be a land of freedom and acceptance and will cooperate in building a more just and fraternal world.”
Francis also noted that in his visit to the UN Headquarters in New York he had “reaffirmed the call to stop and prevent violence against ethnic and religious minorities and against civilian populations.”
It was in Philadelphia, which Francis called the “highlight of the trip,” where the pontiff uttered his sternest words, in warning that marriage had been so stretched and distorted in the United States, that it is no longer even similar to the Christian sacrament of matrimony.
The pontiff noted the “unprecedented changes” taking place in contemporary society, “with their social, cultural – and sadly now juridical – effects on family bonds,” referring to the Supreme Course decision in June to impose same-sex marriage on the entire nation in Obergefell v. Hodges.
“These changes affect all of us, believers and non-believers alike,” he said in a blunt address to U.S. bishops on Sunday.
“Until recently,” the Pope said, “we lived in a social context where the similarities between the civil institution of marriage and the Christian sacrament were considerable and shared. The two were interrelated and mutually supportive.”
“This is no longer the case,” he said.
At the end of his address in the Vatican Wednesday, the Pope said that it had been “no accident” that the message of the World Meeting of Families is coming right now from the United States of America, which can serve as a model for the world.
This is the country, Francis said, “that in the last century has reached the pinnacle of economic and technological development without ever denying its religious roots.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome