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Pope and President Talk Climate, Immigration on South Lawn

First lady Michelle Obama, Pope Francis, and President Barack Obama waves from the balcony overlooking the South Lawn of the White House. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
First lady Michelle Obama, Pope Francis, and President Barack Obama waves from the balcony overlooking the South Lawn of the White House. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

The history making arrival ceremony for Pope Francis at the White House lived up to its billing, with the pontiff challenging America to live up to its founding ideals and President Barack Obama touting many areas of agreement — from protecting the planet and welcoming immigrants to opening up Cuba .  

On a perfect, sunny, breezy day, Pope Francis arrived in his little black Fiat , greeted by the president and first lady Michelle Obama, flanked by an honor guard, the Cabinet, numerous members of Congress from both parties — and cheers from the 11,000 gathered on the South Lawn. After a brief walk on the red carpet to the podium, and the national anthems of the Holy See and the United States, the speeches began, with no shortage of political issues mentioned.  

The pope started off right off the bat with the issue of immigration — something that has been the animating issue in the Republican presidential primary .  

“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.  

He spoke of asking the United States to live up to its founding ideals, and to reject all injustice and discrimination. He touched on religious liberty and marriage — issues where the bishops have at times had their disagreements with the president — but without criticizing the president explicitly.  

But his remarks on climate change were the most direct, praising Obama’s efforts to reduce air pollution and calling for action.  

He said climate change is  “a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation” — a direct challenge to Republicans who have either denied global warming is real or argued it would cost too much to have any impact.  

Francis also quoted Martin Luther King Jr., with the nation’s first black president sitting behind him.  

“We have defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honor it,” he quoted.  

Finally, he offered his blessing.  

“God bless America.”  

Obama, for his part, praised the pontiff for his support for diplomacy to avoid war, for his work on Cuba and for calling for protecting “our planet — God’s magnificent gift to us.”  

“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,” Obama said.  

And he talked of immigration.  

“You remind us that ‘the Lord’s most powerful message’ is mercy. That means welcoming the stranger with empathy and a truly open heart — from the refugee who flees war-torn lands, to the immigrant who leaves home in search of a better life. It means showing compassion and love for the marginalized and the outcast, those who have suffered, and those who seek redemption.”  

Obama said that in the United States, “we cherish religious liberty” but around the world Christians are targeted and killed because of their faith.  

Finally, Obama thanked the pope for his moral example.  

“For that great gift of hope, Holy Father, we thank you, and welcome you, with joy and gratitude, to the United States of America,” Obama said.  

The pope then headed for the Oval Office for his meeting with the president to discuss a range of issues, ahead of a parade, a canonization of a new saint and much more to come before tomorrow’s visit to the Capitol.  


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