This morning the Holy Father was officially welcomed at the White House.
It was an inspiring sight for every American Catholic to see our Church’s leader received with all of the honor and dignity our country can offer. Seven and a half years ago Mary and I were privileged to attend the South Lawn ceremony when President George W. Bush greeted Pope Benedict XVI in the same fashion that President Obama welcomed Pope Francis today. Even though those two presidents and popes could not be more different, the significance of these encounters remains the same. A century ago it was unthinkable that such a visit could ever take place (study the history of the Blaine Amendment to the Constitution promoted by anti-Catholic bigotry that narrowly failed), and indeed, he is only the third pope to have visited the White House.
In a city that is riven with partisan politics, it was refreshing to have our Holy Father deliver the timeless message that the good news of Jesus Christ brings to man’s quest for peace. All the acrimony of Washington was silenced while he addressed America and the world this morning. For at least that moment, all politics were set aside in Washington.
This six-day visit to America avails Pope Francis of many such opportunities – from a first-ever appearance by a pope before a joint session of Congress later today, to an address to the United Nations General Assembly, to his visit to Independence Hall. Four of his speeches will be delivered in English, and the remaining 14 will be in his native tongue of Spanish. All will be worth following and pondering.
In my opinion, the Holy Father is saving the best of his visit for last – ok, I am biased, but a delegation of our students, led by Vice President Julie Cosden, will be in attendance at the Sunday Mass. They will bring to this momentous occasion all of the love and gratitude of every student, alum, faculty member, administrator, staffer, donor and friend of Ave Maria University.
Mary and I will be at the gathering at the airport that will be bid Pope Francis farewell as he leaves us Sunday night. Hopefully he will leave our country with a new appreciation of the American people and in particular, the promise of religious liberty that our Constitution provides. And hopefully, he’ll get a glimpse of Rose Reed, Julian Sanderson, Laura Wittmann, Corey Blanchard, Conner O’Brien, and Chris DeCleene there among the hundreds of thousands at the Mass who will be there to participate in the celebration of the Eucharist – and bring him Ave Maria University’s grateful affection.