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Remarks to American Seminarians in Vatican City

June 02, 1994

Thank you very much, Cardinal, Mr. Ambassador. After that political comment he made he has another good reason to go to confession now. [Laughter] Cardinal Baum, Cardinal Szoka, to all of you here, and especially to the American seminarians who are here, let me say it is a profound honor for me and for Hillary and for our entire American party to be here in the Vatican today and for me to have had the meeting that I just had with His Holiness.

We had a wonderful discussion about a large number of things. I'm always amazed to find him so vigorously involved in the affairs of the world. We talked about the difficulties in Bosnia, as you might imagine. We talked a lot about Poland and Eastern Europe. We talked at some length about Russia and our emerging relationships there.

We talked for quite a long while about Asia, about the need to protect religious freedoms in Asian countries and to promote that. And I pledged to the Pope my best efforts to work with other nations, especially nations in Asia, in the cause of religious freedom. We talked about the challenges presented at the moment by the dispute we're having with North Korea.

We talked at great length about the role of the Islamic states in the future of the world, not only in the Middle East but elsewhere. We talked a lot about the Middle East, and I thanked His Holiness for the recognition that the Holy See has given to Israel and the support to the peace process.

We talked about the upcoming conference in Cairo on world population problems, about where we agreed and where we didn't and how we could come together on a policy that would promote responsible growth of the world's population and still reaffirm our common commitment for the central role of the family in every society.

It was for me, as it was last year in Denver, an awe-inspiring experience. But I hope it was also an important experience for the people whom we represent and the progress we are trying to make.

For those of you who are American seminarians here, I would like to say a special word of appreciation for the role of the Catholic Church in our country. There are 20,000 parishes, 9,000 Catholic elementary and high schools, over 200 Catholic colleges and universities, one of which gave me a degree a long time ago. The thing I have always revered about the Catholic Church was the sense of constancy and commitment of the Church in our national life, the sense of putting one's life, one's money, one's time where one's stated ideas are. The Catholic Church has brought together faith and action, word and deed, bringing together people across the lines of rich and poor, of racial lines and other lines perhaps better than any other institution in our society. And I am convinced that it's been able to do that because people like you, those of you who are here as seminarians, have been willing to make the ultimate commitment of your entire lives in the service of that in which you believe.

In all secular societies, it is recognized that very few people have the capacity to make a commitment of that depth and constancy. And yet all of us know that, ultimately, the meaning of our lives depends upon the constant effort to achieve a level of integrity between what we feel and what we think and what we do. And I stand here today to tell you that as an American President I am immensely proud of the commitment you have made.

Hillary and I have a friend whom we treasure greatly, who is a Jesuit priest whom I met over 30 years ago, who went to law school with us later and who continues to labor to fulfill his vows. And one of my most treasured possessions that I ever received from a personal friend was a letter that he wrote to us after he had been a priest for 20 years, explaining without being at all self-righteous what it had meant to him to have kept his vows for two decades and why he thought in a way he had lived a selfish life because he had achieved a measure of peace and comfort and energy that he could have found in no other way.

It is that feeling that I think ultimately we want for all the people of our Nation and all the people of the world. And for your example in taking us in that direction, I thank you very much.

Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at approximately 1:05 p.m. in the Sala Clementina at the Vatican. In his remarks, he referred to Raymond L. Flynn, U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See; William Cardinal Baum, major penitentiary, Apostolic Penitentiary; and Edmund Cardinal Szoka, president, Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See.

William J. Clinton, Remarks to American Seminarians in Vatican City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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