Jimmy Carter photo

Remarks at the Welcoming Ceremony for Pope John Paul II

October 06, 1979

THE PRESIDENT. Members of Congress, members of the Supreme Court, members of the Cabinet, ladies and gentlemen:

Niech bedzie Bog pochwalony!—which, for those of you who do not speak Polish, means "May God be praised!"

This is a day for praising God. On behalf of every American of every faith, I'm pleased and honored to welcome you, Pope John Paul, to the Capital City of the United States of America. Welcome.

In our souls, there is a special feeling which we may call solemn joy. This historic day brings forth such a feeling as we mark another milestone in the long, intertwined history of our country and its faith in God.

But the moment is also historic because the currents that flow below this brief ceremony reach into the very depths of individual lives and even to the breadth of the relationship among sovereign nations. Your journey among us has helped us to see those currents as part of one great river of effort to alleviate human needs and to realize the hunger for spiritual aspirations.

You've moved among us as a champion of dignity and decency for every human being and as a pilgrim for peace among nations. You've offered us your love, and we as individuals are heartened by it. You can be sure, Pope John Paul, that the people of America return your love.

As you've traveled our city streets and our country roads, you've met and touched the vast and rich diversity of America. We cherish our independence of religious thought and our tradition of the separation of church and state, but we are all grateful that we can stand together upon the common ground of shared beliefs.

Sustained by a broad base of mutual understanding, we must seize four unique opportunities which have been dramatized by your visit.

As the first opportunity, we can renew our spiritual lives—in our individual lives, in our families, in our Nation, in our world. During the past few days, you've made us reexamine ourselves. For all the attraction and the sometimes necessity of material things, you've reminded us of the value of human life, and that spiritual strength is the most vital resource of people and of nations. Caring for others makes us strong and gives us courage, while blind pursuit of selfish purposes—of having more instead of being more—only leaves us empty and depressed, lonely and fearful.

We often see tragic results among those we love—disillusionment, cynicism, alienation-sometimes leading to self-debasement, crime, and violence. This does not have to be. These times of rapid and complex change demand that we turn to that which does not ever change—the spiritual strength to grow together; to find unity as a nation, as a human family—and I believe we will.

Our second opportunity is to recognize that our values, our beliefs, our faith are forged and made meaningful only through action. We must be prepared-both as individuals and as a society—not only to deplore poverty, injustice, and the smothering of human aspirations, but to end them.

We know that material values and spiritual values are interrelated and that inequality of opportunity in life breeds disillusionment and sometimes even strife among human beings. We Americans can act on that knowledge both within our country and beyond our borders—and I believe that we will.

Our third opportunity is to remember that the enhancement of human rights is the compelling idea and goal of our time. Through your own example, you've shown the world that the power of the human spirit cannot be subdued by the power of the state. Your courage inspired your native land, and it now inspires the world.

You've shown how we can find meaning within ourselves by reaching out to others in a shared humanity. We believe that the worthy goals of a society call upon us to help others in a common pursuit of freedom and human rights.

This, for us, has been the meaning of America for more than two centuries. The Pilgrims of New England, the Quakers of Pennsylvania, the Catholics of Maryland, the Jews, and many members of other faiths and denominations who've found safety in America have all been witnesses to a fundamental fact—that where religious faith is free, human liberty, equality, and justice may grow. This is a message which is as vital today as it was 200 years ago when our Nation was founded.

As a nation of faith and vigor, we are committed to deliver the message of human freedom throughout the world-and, Your Holiness, that we will.

Our fourth opportunity is peace. We are dedicated to the belief that the natural and proper desire of all human beings is peace.

We seek a peace in Rhodesia, in Nicaragua, in Northern Ireland, in the Middle East. We are committed to peace in every part of the world. We are a great nation that through self-confidence and faith must share with others the security and the beneficial influence which God's blessings have offered to us.

We have the will to limit the growth and spread of nuclear arms. We can bury hatreds and heal political divisions and control the terrible instruments of mass destruction on behalf of humanity. It is our duty and our destiny to walk with those others like yourself who would guide the world in the ways of peace—and we will, because this Nation is not and never can be afraid of peace.

Your Holiness, this is what your historic journey has meant to us. It's fitting that your path through America has brought you at last to our Nation's Capital.

I welcome you to the White House, the symbolic home of all our people. And on behalf of every American of every faith, I also welcome you into our Nation's heart. God bless you for coming to our country. We are proud to have you here.

THE POPE Mr. President, I wish to express my most sincere thanks for your kind words of welcome to the White House. And also, if I could say, my congratulations for your Polish language.

It is indeed a great honor for me to meet with the President of the United States during a visit of which the aims are spiritual and religious in nature. May I convey at the same time to you, and through you to all your fellow Americans, my profound respect for all the Federal and State authorities of this Nation, for its beloved people.

In the course of the last few days, I have had the opportunity to see some of your cities and rural areas. My only regret is that the time is too short to bring my greetings personally to all parts of this country, but I want to assure you that my esteem and affection go out to every man, woman, and child without distinction.

Divine Providence in its own designs has called me from my native Poland to be the successor of Peter in the See of Rome and the leader of the Catholic Church. It gives me great joy to be the first Pope in history to come to the Capital of this Nation, and I thank Almighty God for this blessing.

In accepting your courteous invitation, Mr. President, I have also hoped that our meeting today would serve the cause of world peace, international understanding, and the promotion of full respect for human rights everywhere.

Mr. Speaker and honorable Members of Congress, distinguished members of the Cabinet and of the judiciary, ladies and gentlemen:

Your presence here honors me greatly, and I deeply appreciate the expression of respect which you thus extended to me. My gratitude goes to each one of you personally for your kind welcome, and to all I wish to say how profoundly I esteem your mission as stewards of the common good of all the people of America.

I come from a nation with a long tradition of deep Christian faith and with a national history marked by many upheavals; for more than a hundred years Poland was even erased from the political map of Europe. But it is also a country marked by a deep veneration for those values without which no society can prosper-love of freedom, cultural creativity, and the conviction that common endeavors for the good of society must be guided by a true moral sense.

My own spiritual and religious mission impels me to be the messenger of peace and brotherhood and to witness to the true greatness of every human person. This greatness derives from the love of God, who created us in His own likeness and gave us an eternal destiny. It is in this dignity of the 'human person that I see the meaning of history and that I find the principle that gives sense to the role which every human being has to assume for his or her own advancement and for the wellbeing of the society to which he or she belongs.

It is with these sentiments that I greet in you the whole American people, a people that bases its concept of life on spiritual and moral values, on a deep religious sense, on respect for duty, and on generosity in the service of 'humanity—noble traits which are embodied in a particular way in the Nation's Capital, with its monuments dedicated to such outstanding national figures as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson.

I greet the American people in their elected representatives, all of you who serve in Congress to chart, through legislation, the path that will lead every citizen of this country towards the fullest development of his or her potential, and the Nation as a whole towards assuming its share of the responsibility for building a world of true freedom and justice. I greet America in all who are vested with authority, which can only be seen as an opportunity for serving your fellow citizens and in the overall development of their true humanity and in the full and unimpeded enjoyment of all their fundamental rights.

I salute the people of this land also in the members of the judiciary, who are servants of humanity in the application of justice and who thus hold in their hands the awesome power of profoundly affecting, by their decisions, the lives of every individual.

For all of you I pray to Almighty God that He may grant you the gift of wisdom in your decisions, prudence in your words and actions, and compassion in the exercise of the authority that is yours, so that in your noble office you will always render true service to the people.

God bless America.

Note: The President spoke at 1:57 p.m. on the North Lawn of the White House.

Following the ceremony, the President hosted a private reception for the Pope in the Blue Room at the White House. They then met in the Oval Office.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks at the Welcoming Ceremony for Pope John Paul II Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/248770

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