Over the last nearly 3 decades, I can recall quite a few remarks from our late Holy Father about much of what is wrong in American society. Ironically enough, this came from a pontiff who had the reputation in some circles as being too lenient and not forceful enough. Conversely, Benedict is seen as "God's rotweiller" who will come and drive the moneychangers out of the temple.
His remarks today, however, were full of love and encouragement. Even President Bush seemed free to warmly and publically welcome a world leader who shared many of his Christian, pro-life values in true American style. This being the Holy Father's 81st birthday, the crowds began to spontaneously sing "Happy Birthday" even before the scheduled time. The musicians from the United States military played songs that beautifully reflected both our American and religious heritage.
In this cynical pre-election season, it has taken a foreign head of state to reminded us of what our country is all about and the values that it has been founded upon. It is so easy to give up on our form of government and way of life in our mud-slinging, media-saturated, pre-election culture.
The Holy Father reminded those listening on the White House lawn today that
From the dawn of the Republic, America's quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator. The framers of this nation's founding documents drew upon this conviction when they proclaimed the "self-evident truth" that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights grounded in the laws of nature and of nature's God. The course of American history demonstrates the difficulties, the struggles, and the great intellectual and moral resolve which were demanded to shape a society which faithfully embodied these noble principles. In that process, which forged the soul of the nation, religious beliefs were a constant inspiration and driving force, as for example in the struggle against slavery and in the civil rights movement. In our time too, particularly in moments of crisis, Americans continue to find their strength in a commitment to this patrimony of shared ideals and aspirations.
Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience – almost every town in this country has its monuments honoring those who sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad. The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good and a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate. It also demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one's deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate.
Mr. President, dear friends: as I begin my visit to the United States, I express once more my gratitude for your invitation, my joy to be in your midst, and my fervent prayers that Almighty God will confirm this nation and its people in the ways of justice, prosperity and peace.
God bless America!