President George W. Bush addressed the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast just after 8:30 Friday morning, in a speech filled with glowing references to Pope Benedict XVI. “It’s not every day you get to be the warm-up act to the Holy Father,” began the President jovially, referring to the fact that the guests would soon be viewing a live broadcast of the Pope’s remarks to the United Nations.
“This has been a joyous week,” said the President beaming and eliciting applause. “It’s been a joyous time for Catholics – and it wasn’t such a bad week for Methodists, either,” he added. “The excitement was just palpable. The streets were lined with people that were so thrilled that the Holy Father was here. And it was such a privilege to welcome this good man to the United States.”
The President seemed at a loss for words as he recalled his meeting with the Pope at the White House. “For those of you on the South Lawn – who saw the South Lawn ceremony live, it was – what an unbelievable – it was just such a special moment,” he said. “And it was a special moment to be able to visit with the Holy Father in the Oval Office. He is a humble servant of God. He is a brilliant professor. He is a warm and generous soul.”
The President specified the attributes which he appreciates in Benedict XVI. “He is courageous in the defense of fundamental truths. His Holiness believes that freedom is the Almighty’s gift to every man, woman and child on Earth. He understands that every person has value, or to use his words, ‘each of us is willed, each of us is loved, [and] each of us is necessary.’”
“The Holy Father strongly believes that to whom much is given much is required – and he is a messenger of God’s call to love our neighbors as we’d like to be loved ourselves,” said Bush.
As he has done on previous occasions, the President tied his own work to promote life, to the Pope. “One of the blessings of being the President is I get to see firsthand how people are motivated by the fundamental truths articulated by the Holy Father,” he said.
“Together, over the nearly seven and a half years we’ve worked to uphold the dignity of human life. Over the last – over the last years, my administration has put a stop to U.S. tax dollars funding foreign groups that perform or promote abortions. We’ve worked together to protect unborn victims of violence, and to end the barbaric practice of partial-birth abortion. We have stood fast in our belief that promising medical advances can co-exist with ethical medical practices.”
The President also appealed to the Pope’s stands as he enumerated his administration’s work to promote Catholic education, religious freedom, and faith-based charity.
Bush concluded with a heartfelt thanks for the prayers of Catholics for his Presidential mission and also by offering a prayer for the Pope.
“This is a prayer breakfast. And this is a perfect place for me to say how much I appreciate the prayers of the people for me and Laura. I can’t thank our fellow citizens enough for taking time out of their lives to lift us up for prayer. I have finally begun to understand the story of the calm and the rough seas and I believe – I believe in my heart of hearts that it’s because of the prayers of my fellow citizens,” he said.
“And today with the trust in the Lord’s wisdom and goodness, I offer prayers of my own: for each gathered in the room, for the safety and success of the Holy Father’s visit, and for God’s continued blessings on our great land.”