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Remarks Following an Audience With Pope John Paul II in Vatican City

May 27, 1989

His Holiness. Mr. President, your visit this evening represents the latest of many contacts between the United States of America and the Holy See. A number of your predecessors and many other illustrious Americans have been welcomed here before you. Our meeting offers me the opportunity to reciprocate the much-appreciated hospitality that I received in your country and to recall the kind, personal attention that as Vice President you showed me as I left Detroit in September 1987, the year of the bicentennial of your Constitution.

Our encounter this time has also a special historical context, coming as it does in a year that now commemorates the 200th anniversary of your first Congress under the Constitution and, likewise, the 200th anniversary of the establishment at Baltimore of the first Catholic diocese in your land. For the Holy See, this is an occasion to express again its esteem for all the American people and for two centuries of that ethnic and fraternal experience in history called the United States of America.

Thirteen years ago, your country celebrated another historical bicentennial connected with your Declaration of Independence. It was then that my predecessor, Paul VI, spoke words that are applicable once again and that merit new attention. "At every turn," he said, "your bicentennial speaks to you of moral principles, religious convictions, unalienable rights given by the Creator." We honestly hope that this commemoration of your bicentennial will constitute a rededication to those sound moral principles formulated by your Founding Fathers and enshrined forever in your history.

It is America's dedication to the great heritage that is hers, to those values of the spirit, a number of which you alluded to earlier this year in your Inaugural Address, that offers hope and confidence to those who look to her with friendship and esteem. In that inaugural address, Mr. President, you made reference to power as existing to help people, to serve people. This is true at different levels, including power at the political and economic level. We see this, too, at the level of each community, with its power of fraternal love and concern. In all these areas, an immense challenge opens up before the United States in this third century of her nationhood. Her mission as a people engaged in good works and committed to serving others has horizons the length of your nation and far beyond -- as far as humanity extends.

Today the interdependence of humanity is being reaffirmed and recognized through world events. The moral and social attitudes that must constitute a response to this interdependence is found in worldwide solidarity. In treating this question in a recent encyclical, I have stated that solidarity is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all. Truly, the hour of international interdependence has struck. What is at stake is the common good of humanity.

Mr. President, I know how deeply committed you are to the efforts being made to liberate the youth of America from the destructive forces of drug abuse and to alleviate poverty at home and abroad. Material poverty and drug abuse, however, are only symptoms of a deeper moral crisis eating away at the very texture of society in almost every part of the world. All men and women of good will are called to take up the challenge and assume their responsibilities before the human family to address this crisis and to counteract the spiritual poverty that lies at the base of so much of human suffering.

By reason of her history, her resources, her creativity, but above all by reason of the moral principles and spiritual values espoused by her Founding Fathers and institutionally bequeathed to all her citizens, America truly has the possibility of an effective response to the challenges of the present hour: justice for all her citizens; peaceful relations beyond her borders; international solidarity; and in particular, a worldwide solidarity in the course of life, in the course of every human person.

Leaving Detroit and in saying goodbye to America in 1987, I expressed these thoughts: Every human person, no matter how vulnerable or helpless, no matter how useful or productive for society, is a being of inestimable worth, created in the image and likeness of God. This is the dignity of America, the reason she exists, the condition for her survival; yes, the ultimate test of her greatness: to respect every human person, especially the weakest and most defenseless ones, those as yet unborn.

Mr. President, may God bless America and make her strong in her defense of human dignity and in her service to the Almighty.

The President. Your Holiness, Mrs. Bush and I are deeply honored to meet with you once again. Late in 1987 -- as you said, it was in Detroit, at the close of your second pastoral visit to our country, I had the honor, the privilege, of thanking you on behalf of my fellow citizens for the insightful message that you brought to our shores. And you inspired us, and you challenged us. And this evening, during our private discussion, I've benefited once again from your wise counsel.

When I became President, I did say in my inaugural speech that a new breeze is blowing. And there is no doubt we are witness to dynamic changes in much of the world, changes that move toward greater freedom and basic human rights. In your New Year's greeting to the Vatican diplomatic corps, representing over 100 nations, you stressed the fundamental importance of religious freedom. And when people are free to worship God, they prepare a ground in which a commitment to all human rights can grow strong. Religious freedom is a right that governments must protect, not threaten.

The United States also shares the Holy See's concern for world peace. While we're still far from realizing the biblical injunction to turn our swords into plowshares, we've made progress in reducing armaments and in decreasing the threat of war. And that progress must continue, and it will continue. Fortunately, in Europe our efforts to maintain peace have been successful. And as we look around the world, we're pleased to see that tensions have been reduced in parts of southern Africa and Asia. We're working hard to help bring peace and greater freedom to Central America.

We've heard your eloquent appeals for an end to the violence in Lebanon. And my heart, too, aches for the people of that once peaceful land. And I can assure you that we will continue to do everything we can to help bring peace and to help restore Lebanon's unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity, with the disbanding of militias and the withdrawal of all foreign forces.

Your Holiness has said several times that peace is more than an absence of war, and we agree. History teaches us that there is no true, lasting peace until human rights are recognized and people are free to develop their full potential. Your Holiness, this spring, in the land of your birth, a historic roundtable agreement was reached which opened the paths to greater freedom and opportunity. That accord is a tribute to the spirit of the Polish people, as well as to the determination of the Polish Church and, indeed, the Holy See. And just this month, due in large part to your leadership, the Church was legalized in Poland. This triumph represents the first full normalization of church-state relations in any Communist state, and it is a tribute to your enduring commitment to freedom.

As you know, I recently announced a package of financial measures that signal our active engagement in encouraging economic and political reform in Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. We hope these programs will help the Polish people achieve the economic recovery and political participation they so rightly deserve.

Your Holiness, I am grateful for this opportunity to visit with you, to share in your wisdom. And I assure you of our intent to work ever more fervently for peace, justice, and freedom throughout the world. On behalf of all of us, thank you very much.

Note: His Holiness Pope John Paul II spoke at 7:10 p.m. in the Papal Library.

George Bush, Remarks Following an Audience With Pope John Paul II in Vatican City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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