From the moment he arrived at the White House in a tiny Fiat Wednesday morning, Pope Francis made a statement about who he is.
He is a pope who rejects the trappings of power, as well as one who wishes to emphasize that all must live a more environmentally conscious life, the topic of his recent encyclical Laudato Si, or “On the Care of Our Common Home.”
Pope Francis touched on four topics in his short remarks at the White House: the environment and climate change; immigration; religious liberty; and marriage.
During his remarks, Pope Francis emphasized the need to protect the environment and returned again to the subject of climate change, which he characterized as a problem that cannot be left to future generations.
He also touched on another issue of importance to President Obama. He characterized himself as a son of immigrants and said he was “happy to be a guest in this country, which was built by such families.”
The pope also said why he has come to the United States: He is here for encounter and dialogue, but also to listen to the concerns of the people.
In his welcoming remarks President Obama stated that in the United States, “We cherish religious liberty.”
The president stated further, essentially defining what he means by religious liberty, that here the faithful are not killed for living their faith; that they can practice their faith openly; and that they are not for practicing their faith.
“You shake our conscience from slumber,” President Obama told the pope, belying what many have felt about the practices of his administration in regards to contraception and same-sex marriage.
In his remarks, the pope said he would speak with Congress later Wednesday and in his remarks would encourage Congress to remain faithful to the nation’s founding principles.
In emphasizing religious liberty the pope said that “Freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions.”
He added, in what seemed a nod to his understanding that the nation has been slipping in these areas under the president’s administration:
“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.”
Pope Francis also made what seems a pointed reference to same-sex marriage:
“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.”