Vatican City, 24 September 2015 (VIS) – Yesterday more than two hundred thousand people awaited Pope Francis outside the White House, where shortly after 9 a.m. local time (3 p.m. in Rome) he was welcomed by President Barack Obama and the First Lady, Michelle Obama. They accompanied him to the podium erected in the grounds of the presidential residence, where before two thousand people the Holy Father gave his first address in the United States.
In his discourse he affirmed that, “as the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families”, and highlighted the commitment of American Catholics, along with their fellow citizens, to constructing a tolerant and inclusive society and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination. The Pope also mentioned the importance of the right to religious freedom and the duty of defending it from anything that might threaten or compromise it.
Francis praised Barack Obama's initiative for reducing air pollution. “Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation”, he said. “When it comes to the care of our 'common home', we are living at a critical moment of history. We still have time to make the changes needed to bring about 'a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change'. Such change demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition not only of the kind of world we may be leaving to our children, but also to the millions of people living under a system which has overlooked them. Our common home has been part of this group of the excluded which cries out to heaven and which today powerfully strikes our homes, our cities and our societies. To use a telling phrase of the Reverend Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honour it. … Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home. As Christians inspired by this certainty, we wish to commit ourselves to the conscious and responsible care of our common home”.
The Holy Father also mentioned recent efforts “to mend broken relationships and to open new doors to cooperation within our human family” which “represent positive steps along the path of reconciliation, justice and freedom. I would like all men and women of good will in this great nation to support the efforts of the international community to protect the vulnerable in our world and to stimulate integral and inclusive models of development, so that our brothers and sisters everywhere may know the blessings of peace and prosperity which God wills for all his children”.
“Mr. President”, he concluded, “once again I thank you for your welcome, and I look forward to these days in your country. God bless America!”.
At the end of the welcome ceremony, the Pope and the president retired to the Oval Office where an exchange of gifts and a private discussion took place, attended by members of President Obama's family. The Pope's gift was a bronze medallion commemorating the Eighth World Meeting of Families, to be celebrated on 27 September in Philadelphia.