Sen. Hatch welcomes Pope Francis; pope concludes first full day in US Capital

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) — Cheered by jubilant crowds across the nation’s capital, Pope Francis forged common cause Wednesday with President Barack Obama on climate change, immigration and inequality, as the popular pontiff signaled he would not sidestep issues that have deeply divided Americans.

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, the senior Republican in the United States Senate, is playing a prominent role in welcoming the pope to the U.S. Capital. Hatch plans to use the opportunity to highlight the importance of religious liberty, according to a press release from Hatch’s office.

Tuesday, Hatch delivered remarks welcoming the pope and kicking off a series of speeches on the importance of religious liberty and his hope of discussing the subject with the pope.

Pope Francis waves from the popemobile as he arrives for the Canonization Mass of Blessed Junipero Serra, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington | AP Photo by Steve Helber, St. George News
Pope Francis waves from the popemobile as he arrives for the Canonization Mass of Blessed Junipero Serra, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. | AP Photo by Steve Helber, St. George News

On Wednesday, the pope’s first full day in the United States, Obama invited Hatch to the White House to officially welcome him.

Francis also reached out to America’s 450 bishops Wednesday, many of whom have struggled to come to terms with his new social justice-minded direction for the Catholic Church. He gently prodded the bishops to forgo “harsh and divisive language,” while commending their “courage” in the face of the church’s sexual abuse scandal — rhetoric that angered victims he may meet with later in his trip.

Late in the day, Francis — the first pope from the Americas — canonized Junipero Serra, the famous 18th century Spanish friar who brought the Catholic faith to California.

The 78-year-old pontiff’s whirlwind day in Washington enlivened the often stoic, politically polarized city. Excited crowds lined streets near the White House to catch a glimpse of the smiling and waving Francis as he passed by in his open-air “popemobile.” He seemed to draw energy from the cheering spectators, particularly the children his security detail brought to him for a papal kiss and blessing.

In keeping with his reputation as the “people’s pope,” Francis kept Obama and other dignitaries at the White House waiting so he could spend time greeting schoolchildren gathered outside the Vatican’s diplomatic mission, where he spent the night.

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Pope Francis after this welcoming speech during the state arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015 | AP Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais, St. George News
President Barack Obama shakes hands with Pope Francis after his welcoming speech during the state arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015 | AP Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais, St. George News

With flags snapping, color guard at attention and a military band playing, Francis stepped from his modest Fiat onto the South Lawn on a crisp fall morning that felt as optimistic as his own persona. Pope and president stood on a red-carpeted platform bedecked with red, white and blue bunting for the national anthems of the Holy See and the United States.

The pope’s remarks were brief, yet pointed.

Speaking in soft, halting English, Francis said that as the son of an immigrant family, he was “happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families.” The Argentine pope was born to Italian parents who left their home country before he was born, and he has been a forceful advocate for humane treatment of migrants.

Francis was enthusiastic in his embrace of Obama’s climate change agenda, specifically praising the president for taking steps to reduce air pollution. In a firm message to those who doubt the science of climate change, he said the warming planet “demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition” of the world that will be left to today’s children.

Pope Francis holds the head of a small child as he leans from the popemobile during a parade, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, in Washington | AP Photo by Alex Brandon, Pool, St. George News
Pope Francis holds the head of a small child as he leans from the popemobile during a parade, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, in Washington, D.C. | AP Photo by Alex Brandon, Pool, St. George News

“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,” said Francis, who has been pressing his environmental message ahead of climate change talks in Paris later this year.

The pope’s messages were warmly welcomed by Obama, who has prodded his Republican rivals for action on immigration and climate change with limited success. In his own remarks heralding the pope’s arrival at the White House, Obama thanked Francis for reminding the world of the “sacred obligation to protect our planet — God’s magnificent gift to us.”

The pope and president were also aligned in their call for addressing global poverty and inequality, with Obama praising Francis’ call to put “the least of these at the center of our concern.”

The pope had something for conservatives, too, with a clear call to protect religious liberties — “one of America’s most precious possessions.”

A child is escorted back before Pope Francis called for the child to be brought to him, during a parade in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015 | AP Photo by Alex Brandon, Pool, St. George News
A child is escorted back before Pope Francis called for the child to be brought to him during a parade in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015 | AP Photo by Alex Brandon, Pool, St. George News

“All are called to be vigilant,” he said, “to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.”

U.S. bishops and conservatives who have objected to the Obama administration’s health care mandate and the recent Supreme Court legalization of same-sex marriage have made religious freedom a rallying cry, with a largely domestic focus.

After their opening remarks on the lawn, Obama and Francis met one-on-one for 40 minutes in the Oval Office, joined only by an interpreter. White House aides said the discussion was private and declined to say whether the leaders addressed subjects on which they sharply differ, including abortion and gay marriage.

While the pope’s visit was analyzed for political implications in a city already consumed by next year’s U.S. presidential election, for Catholics and many other Americans Francis’ six-day, three-city trip to the U.S. is an opportunity to connect with a humble church leader who has rejuvenated many of the country’s believers.

Nuns sit in their pews while waiting for Pope Francis to arrive inside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, in Washington | AP Photo by David Goldman, St. George News
Nuns sit in their pews while waiting for Pope Francis to arrive inside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, in Washington, D.C. | AP Photo by David Goldman, St. George News

“He’s made the church more of an obtainable thing,” said Nigel Stacy, a law student who arrived at the White House in the middle of the night to get a good place to stand for the arrival ceremony. “It’s more relatable. You see what he does and you can see yourself emulating that.”

Washington resident Theresa Wellman, who brought her mother and five children to watch the pope’s parade through the streets of the nation’s capital, called Francis “a breath of fresh air.”

“He’s changed the tone into a loving, merciful church to serve the poor,” Wellman said.

The church’s leadership in the U.S. has sometimes been more skeptical of the pope, wary of the divide between his focus on a merciful church and the culture wars that America’s bishops have been involved in over abortion and gay rights.

President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and Pope Francis wave to the crowd on the South Lawn from the Truman Balcony of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, during a state arrival ceremony | AP Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais, St. George News
President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and Pope Francis wave to the crowd on the South Lawn from the Truman Balcony of the White House in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, during a state arrival ceremony | AP Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais, St. George News

In his remarks to U.S. bishops at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, Francis emphasized one of the defining messages of his papacy, to focus less on defending church teaching and more on compassion. The pope told the American church leaders that “harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor” and he encouraged them to speak with anyone, no matter their views.

In his first comments in the U.S. on the clergy sex abuse scandal that erupted in 2002, the pope praised the bishops for a “generous commitment to bring healing to victims” and for acting “without fear of self-criticism.”

An organization for abuse victims quickly disagreed.

“Almost without exception, they have shown cowardice and callousness and continue to do so now,” said Barbara Dorris, president of SNAP, or Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Seminarians greet Pope Francis, bottom center, as he walks into the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, before holding a mass to canonize Junipero Serra | Pool Photo via AP, Photo by Tony Gentile, St. George News
Seminarians greet Pope Francis, bottom center, as he walks into the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, before holding a mass to canonize Junipero Serra | Pool Photo via AP, Photo by Tony Gentile, St. George News

Under public pressure, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops pledged to oust any guilty clergy from church work and enact safeguards for children. However, some victims say the bishops still haven’t fully accounted for sheltering abusers. This year, three bishops resigned over their failures to protect children.

Later Wednesday, Francis celebrated a Mass of Canonization, the first ever on U.S. soil, for Junipero Serra in Spanish. Several thousand of the 25,000 tickets to the event were set aside for Spanish-speaking people, many from California. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception erected a temporary sanctuary outdoors for the Mass, which lasted into the evening.

On Thursday, Francis planned to deliver the first papal address ever to Congress, speaking to Republican-majority legislators deeply at odds with Obama on many of the same issues the leaders addressed at the White House.

Thursday, Hatch will serve as a member of the congressional escort committee and will be part of the procession that leads the pope into the House of Representatives chamber to speak before the joint session of Congress.

Associated Press writers Julie Pace, Nicole Winfield, Nancy Benac, Darlene Superville, Kevin Freking, Stacy A. Anderson, Juliet Linderman and Jessica Gresko in Washington and Religion Writer Rachel Zoll in New York contributed to this report.

CORRECTION update Sept. 25: Headline spelling of the word Capitol corrected to Capital.

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9 Comments

  • fun bag September 23, 2015 at 8:00 pm

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but the pope doesn’t even have a fraction of the magical powers of Tommy Monson, is that right? I’m not even sure the pope has any magical powers, but Tommy can actually communicate with “heavenly father”, and I’d imagine he’s got quite a collection of talking rocks and hats as well. They should of made Tommy the pope…who knows, maybe they will..

    • aviatormh September 23, 2015 at 9:24 pm

      Your bigot is on display again Fun Bag

  • munchie September 23, 2015 at 11:09 pm

    Hatch is going to “highlight the importance of religious liberty” to the Pope? Maybe he could tell him how tolerant the Mormons are to other religions.

  • CaliGirl September 24, 2015 at 8:32 am

    Maybe Hatch will invite the Pope to meet with LDS missionaries in his ward.

    • Mean Momma September 24, 2015 at 10:42 am

      Oooo ohhhh! Now THAT is a great idea!

    • Rainbow Dash September 24, 2015 at 11:05 am

      HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA 🙂 Oh Caligirl. You made me snort out loud. Thank you for that.

    • sagemoon September 24, 2015 at 1:48 pm

      LOL

    • Dexter September 24, 2015 at 5:27 pm

      I’m sure that won’t happen. Yawwwwwn

  • beentheredonethat September 24, 2015 at 4:30 pm

    You know Hatch is thinking “I dare you to drive the popemobile in MY state”

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