.- This morning in the nation’s capital, Catholic and political leaders from around the U.S. gathered for the annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast. For his part, President George Bush praised the Catholic Church for its voice in the national immigration debate and called for hope in a time of national and international tension.
President Bush quipped about what an honor it was that the organizers of the Catholic event invited himself--a Methodist. He also added his particular thrill “to be here with the cardinals of the Church.”
He began by saying that the world needs a “hopeful moment,” at a time “when more people have a chance to claim freedom that God intended for us all.”
“It's also a time of great challenge,” he said. “Some people believe you cannot distinguish between right and wrong. The Catholic Church rejects such a pessimistic view of human nature and offers a vision of human freedom and dignity rooted in the same self-evident truths of America's founding.”
Recalling the late Pope John Paul II, Bush said that “in the last part of the 20th century, we saw the appeal of freedom in the hands of a priest from Poland.”
“When [John Paul] ascended to the chair of St. Peter, the Berlin Wall was still standing. His native Poland was occupied by a communist power. And the division of Europe looked like a permanent scar across the continent. Yet Pope John Paul told us, "Be not afraid," because he knew that an empire built on lies was ultimately destined to fail.”
He went on to say that “By reminding us that our freedom and dignity rests on truths about man and his nature, Pope John Paul II set off one of the greatest revolutions for freedom the world has ever known.”
The president also talked spoke about John Paul’s predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who he said “understands that the measure of a free society is how it treats the weakest and most vulnerable among us. In his Christmas homily, the Pope noted that the Savior came to earth as a ‘defenseless child,’ and said that the splendor of that Christmas shines upon every child, born and unborn.”
In this light, he called for a strengthening of a “culture of life”, a term coined by John Paul II, saying that “we will continue to work for the day when every child is welcome in life and protected in law.”
San Antonio’s Archbishop Jose Gomez greeted the president and congratulated him for his efforts in developing an immigration legislation that simultaneously strives to protect the U.S.’s borders and extend compassion to immigrants.
On this, the president praised the role of Catholic organizations in “welcoming newcomers and helping them to become good citizens.”
Calling for more civil discussion on the immigration debate, Bush said that “an immigration system that forces people into the shadows of our society, or leaves them prey to criminals is a system that needs to be changed.
He expressed his confidence “that we can change our immigration system in ways that secures our border, respects the rule of law, and, as importantly, upholds the decency of our country. As the Congress continues this debate, its members must remember we are a nation of immigrants. And immigration has helped restore our soul on a regular basis.”
1,700 people attended the prayer breakfast, including some 20 congressmen, 3 senators, and two Secretaries of the current administration.
In addition, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the new Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S. was on hand bearing personal greetings of Pope Benedict XVI.
Madison’s Bishop Robert C. Morlino gave the keynote address, speaking about how Catholics have to respond to the dictatorship of relativism created by, among other things by the complete manipulation of language.