Richard Nixon photo

Remarks in the Vatican to Students From the North American College

September 28, 1970

Cardinal Wright, all of Your Excellencies who are here today, and those who are attending this session in this great, historic room from the North American College:

I was reminded by my great and dear friend, Archbishop O'Connor,1 that this is the fourth occasion on which I have visited the North American College. As I receive your very warm reception, I can only say this is one college that an American President can go to and get a warm reception. Thank you a lot.

1Archbishop Martin J. O'Connor, president of the Pontifical Commission for Social Communications and rector of the North American College in Rome, 1946- 1964.

I have just had the privilege of another audience with His Holiness, Pope Paul, and we have discussed, as we have on previous occasions, the whole range of world policies, and not only the responsibilities that I would have as the President of the United States in a temporal way, but the responsibilities and the part that may be played by those whose primary area is in the field of the spirit.

As I pointed out to His Holiness, I am going to be visiting in a very short time the mightiest fleet that has ever been assembled in the history of the world. When we think of that great power that I will see there, I suppose the pragmatists-those who are pragmatists without being idealists--the pragmatists would say what really matters only is the power, the power that can be mounted there, militarily, maintained by the United States, supplemented by its allies.

I know, however, as all of you know, because you have chosen this life that is yours now--I know that there is another power in this world, a power that transcends material factors, a power that transcends also even the great military strength that we may have, or other nations may have. It is the power of the spirit.

It has become fashionable, sometimes, these days, to speak disrespectfully of that power of the spirit, or to speak in terms of its being obsolete.

I can assure you I do not feel that way. I do not feel that way as an individual.

But what is perhaps even more important--as one who has seen the leaders of the world arid one who knows what moves people in the world--I do feel that, as I look at the world scene today, there is an enormous need, believe me, for what you gentlemen, what you are going to be doing when you leave this college and when you go all over the world to carry that message of the spirit.

It is a need that can't be filled by a man even as powerful as the President of the United States. I know one of the favorite stories that has been told about the Vatican involved Pope John. As I recall, it goes something like this: He said that sometimes when he woke up in the middle of the night and thought of a serious problem, he would say to himself, "I'd better talk to the Pope about that in the morning." Then he said, "When I got fully awake, I realized I was the Pope."

I think I could perhaps put myself in a similar position in this way: Sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night, half awake, and I think of the serious problems of this Nation and the world, I say to myself, "I have got to talk to the President about that problem. He has got to do something about that." And then when I am fully awake, I realize that I am the President.

But I want you to know this: Great as is the power of the Presidency of the United States, a power that can make the difference between war and peace in great crises, a power that can be used to help those nations of the world that need help and assistance to gain a decent standard of living, and to help people within our own country who haven't had that equal chance, a power that can bring better programs for housing and health and transportation and all those material things of life that are so important for the good life--while a President can make enormous contributions in these areas, and I hope this administration, my administration, just as my predecessors, I know, hoped for their administrations, I hope we make progress in all those areas: peace in the world, better housing, better health, better opportunities for education, more opportunity for all people throughout the world.

But I realize there is an area where I can do very little and where you can do very much, because let us never forget, we can have the best fed, best clothed, best housed people in all the world, with the air clean and the waters pure and the environment satisfactory and open space--but if people do not have something to believe in other than those material factors, there will be a void. It needs to be filled. It needs to be filled, I believe, by those who represent, as you do, a great church.

My church happens to be different from yours, but I know that in very difficult times my religion has sustained me. And I know that you--as you go out-you will work for social justice, and that is a great new trend in the great religions of today.

But you will remember, too, that in working for social justice and progress in these material areas, important as that is, you have something to provide that no lay leader can provide no matter what his power is: the meaning of life, the spiritual quality, that inner peace, that inner strength which allows an individual to see himself or herself through great crises, and to live a life of meaning, not one which is measured solely in material terms.

I know that in saying these words to this group that, like what we often say at home, it is like the preacher talking to the choir, but I do want you to know that as I see this very exciting--and you are that-group of people, I know that you are the best.

Archbishop O'Connor has told me how you are selected. I know that you come here for this experience, and I know that when you go forth that you will be leaders in your church, in your communities, whatever nation you may go to. I wish you well because, speaking very humbly, as President of the strongest nation in the world, with more power, perhaps, than any leader in the world, I can say with all the power I have, you have something, you and your colleagues, that the world needs, and particularly the young people of the world need, very much today.

I wish you very well.

Note: The President spoke at 5:15 p.m. in Clementine Hall in the Vatican. John Cardinal Wright was the prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy at the Vatican.

Richard Nixon, Remarks in the Vatican to Students From the North American College Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under



Vatican City

Simple Search of Our Archives