Breakfast With The President


Mr. W. & I attended this morning's National Catholic Prayer Breakfast. I wasn't expecting the President to attend this year; I figured in pulling out all the stops for the Holy Father this week he'd done more than enough by us mackerel-snatchers. But lo and behold we got the email last night saying come early to get through security, W's coming. And he was in rare form, I must say. He's always relaxed with this crowd --no one knows better than the city's Catholic activists what a champion of life this President has been, and therefore no one better appreciates him. But even for him in this audience, he was by turns almost giddy talking about the Holy Father, excited talking about the programs that mean most to him, and then choked up talking about how much people's prayers mean to him. Here's the text. There's video at the site, too, and you should take 5 minutes to watch it. A few nice moments:
[The after breakfast program was going to show the Pope's visit to the UN, so the President opened thus]: I understand that this program builds up to another speech. (Laughter.) It's not every day you get to be the warm-up act to the Holy Father. (Laughter.)
This has been a joyous week. (Applause.) It's been a joyous time for Catholics -- and it wasn't such a bad week for Methodists, either. (Laughter.)

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.

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. (Applause.) 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.

He is courageous in the defense of fundamental truths. (Applause.) 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." (Applause.)

Senator McCain was in attendance, Sen. Brownback acting as Sherpa. The President's biggest applause line was this --it got him loud cheering and a lengthy standing ovation:

We've worked together to protect unborn victims of violence, and to end the barbaric practice of partial-birth abortion. (Applause.) We have stood fast in our belief that promising medical advances can co-exist with ethical medical practices. (Applause.) Last November, scientists discovered a way to reprogram adult skin cells to act like embryonic stem cells. This is a significant breakthrough, because science -- scientists have found a path that can lead beyond the divisive debates of the past -- and extend the healing potential of medicine without destroying human life. (Applause.)
I don't think the crowd was thinking about McCain --it was genuine, not pointed, applause--but I hope McCain noticed. I won't quote the President's whole litany of his positive experiences with Catholics in various apostolates, but those nuns in Galilee came up:
I've seen wonders on the Sea of Galilee during my recent trip to the Middle East. On a recent visit my guides were joyful Catholic nuns who preserve the holy sites for all mankind -- even as they struggle with the dangers to the region's Christian minority.
And he's told this story before-- I
n February, I saw a 9-year-old girl who is HIV-positive, who had lost both her parents to AIDS. And for the last year, Catholic Relief Services had been paying for the girl to receive treatment at the clinic. I want to tell you what her grandmother said: "As a Muslim, I never imagined that a Catholic group would help me like that." She went on to say, "I am so grateful to the American people." And I am grateful for those who provide love and compassion in America and around the world. (Applause.)
-- but he got all choked up as he quoted the woman being grateful to America, and uttering his own gratitude for the people who made that experience possible.

Having the Prez among us once again was a delight, but it would have been a great day anyway--all the table chatter was about the Pope's visit (you could tell who'd been at yesterday's Mass by whether or not their faces were sunburned). Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City gave the keynote address, which was terrific. He's one of the upcoming "baby bishops" who are going to change the face of the church over the next decade as the Boomer Bishops retire. I'll post his text once it's up.

Other highlights:
  • really cool ads from Catholics Come Home (Scroll down on the home page to find them).
  • tear-jerker of a testimony from Thomas Loome whom readers of this blog may know as the Loome Theological Books fellow. He studied theology under Joseph Ratzinger at one time. I didn't know that he & his wife are part of the Catholic Worker Movement and have arranged the care of 71 women and 48 children since 2001 --all without a dime of federal or state money, and indeed, without even incorporating or running a business. They just live simply, pray a lot, ask for help and recruit others. As Loome put it (from memory),
    there isn't anything at all original in what we do --at least, we hope not! It's just Christianity.
    He said they live by three principles: belief in what the Church teaches, period. The belief that each life is sacred, even the wicked, no exceptions. And a commitment to evangelical non-violence --which, interestingly, he said, we follow not as a command, but a counsel. I had the feeling I was in the presence of a saint as he spoke, although I expect he would not like to hear anyone say that: a very modest man.
  • A prayer for the Church in Iraq led by the head of the Chaldean Assyrian Syriac Council of America. He closed by praying the Our Father in Aramaic --and he, too, got choked up. Lot of crying this year, come to think of it.