Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
January 26, 2009
Inauguration recalls place of religion in U.S.
President Obama says patchwork heritage is a strength, Archbishop Wuerl calls U.S. a 'people of faith'
BY CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON – The United States’ multiple religious traditions are “a strength, not a weakness,” said President Barack Obama Jan. 20 in his inaugural address.
“Our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness,” said the nation’s 44th president. “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and nonbelievers.”
In his 2,400-word address, Obama said the source of America’s confidence lies in “the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.”
ROLE OF RELIGION
In putting religious traditions at the centre, Obama to some extent echoed a homily given two days earlier by Washington’s Catholic archbishop, Donald Wuerl. In his homily during a Jan. 18 Mass at St. Matthew Cathedral, Wuerl said the inauguration was an opportunity to reflect on “ the significant role that religious faith plays in our self-recognition” as a nation.
He urged the congregation as “a people of hope” to pray for the new president that he might “always be open to the stirrings of the spirit of God and as a people of faith that we might always respond . . . in a way that our deepest convictions are expressed, heard and appreciated.”
The European colonists who settled the nation’s two coasts came to this new land imbued “with a sense of call and mission,” and through its history the country has “tried to respond to God’s word,” Wuerl said.
A PEOPLE OF FAITH
“We are a people of faith, we have been so from our beginnings, confident that God calls us to be a truly good and just society. As we have grown and prospered we have tried to see in our lives the hand of God.”
All over the country “church buildings and houses of worship and prayer . . . are a testimony to our religious heritage and tangible verification of its impact on our lives, individually and collectively,” he said.
“A visit to church, as we do this evening, is both an exercise in history and a religious pilgrimage of faith,” Wuerl continued.
“Since we are both members of the Church and citizens of the state we should expect that our faith should be reflected in our public life.”
Catholics look to their Church “for guidance that can only come from God,” he continued.
“We believe that the teaching of the Church represents for us an opening onto the wisdom of God and we should look to our most deeply held convictions when we address matters that effect our nation’s activities at home or abroad,” he said.
“Over centuries the voice of the Church has been the voice of conscience.”
“Well-articulated faith-based principles” have helped to form U.S. public policy with regard to human dignity and the improvement of working conditions, he said. The Church has brought “the strongest moral voice” to debates even when it was not always welcome.
Most of the social legislation of the 1930s and subsequent years “finds its moral foundation and philosophical formulation in the magisterium of the Church,” he said.
Today “our struggle” is to defend all human life from conception to natural death, he said.
“The voice of faith today, as it has been for centuries, is still the voice of conscience, the voice of God within our hearts calling us to what we ought to do,” he said.
Before the inauguration ceremony, Obama and then-Vice President-elect Joseph Biden and their wives took part in a morning prayer service at St. John’s Episcopal Church, across Lafayette Park from the White House.
The day before, both Obama and Biden joined volunteers in various service projects on the national observance of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. birthday holiday, which was designated as a national day of service.
KNIGHTS COAT DRIVE
Among the numerous service projects in the nation’s capital was a coat drive sponsored by the Knights of Columbus.
The fraternal organization purchased 7,800 coats from Oshkosh B’gosh and London Fog and distributed 1,200 of them at three Catholic churches in Washington.
The purchase was made through the Knights’ Coats for Kids program to help needy children stay warm in the winter.
Biden worshipped and received Communion Jan. 18 at Holy Trinity Church in the Georgetown neighbourhood of Washington.
Holy Trinity is the same church where President John Kennedy worshipped while in Washington, including a morning Mass Jan. 20, 1961, before his own swearing-in.
POPE SENDS CONGRATULATIONS
Meanwhile, in a Jan. 20 telegram, Pope Benedict sent his congratulations to the new American president.
The pope said he prayed that, under the new president’s leadership, “ the American people continue to find in their impressive religious and political heritage the spiritual values and ethical principles needed to cooperate in the building of a truly just and free society.”
The pope said he hoped the future of the United States would be “marked by respect for the dignity, equality and rights of each of its members, especially the poor, the outcast and those who have no voice.”
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