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Visit of Pope John Paul II Remarks at a White House Reception.

October 06, 1979

THE PRESIDENT. My friends, fellow Americans of every faith, I greet you here with a mixture of both pride and pleasure. We've been privileged to meet today at the White House with a truly extraordinary man—John Paul—one who will mean even more to us in the future as we in this world move in this century to meet the complex challenges Which inevitably will confront us and all others who live on Earth.

Our Nation was not founded to deny human beings a life of the spirit, but to welcome the spiritual into our lives, and I join all Americans in welcoming Pope John Paul II with open hearts into the lives of our Nation. You are welcome with us, Your Holiness.

As you know, he comes to us as a pastor, as a scholar, as a poet, as a philosopher, but I think primarily as a pastor. [To the Pope] Do you agree? As a pastor?

THE POPE. You are right.

THE PRESIDENT. He has decided not to dispute the word of the President. [Laughter]

Regardless of our faith, we look on him as a pastor, and he's come to know us and to talk to us about gentleness, about humility, about forgiveness, and about love. You've taught us, our beloved guest, that we in the United States are not perfect, that we in the United States are responsible for our own behavior. You show in your life and in your teachings a particular concern for human dignity. You know that many people are fearful, but that a person with faith need not be afraid. Our religious faith is, indeed, relevant to a modern world.

We've been greatly blessed in this country. We know from the holy word that to whom much has been given, much will be required. You've reminded us, indeed, of our own responsibilities.

Our America was founded to give a home to all those who sought religious freedom. For us today, religious freedom is not just a valued relic of a bygone age or a source of national pride. It's a practical necessity for our Nation's forward course into the future, for as we face difficult, painful, often disheartening changes and transformations in our own lives, now as never before, our Nation needs all the spiritual strength that has been gained and nurtured through the long history of a nation of freedom.

Long before he became Pope, Karol Wojtyla, as a priest in his native Poland, wrote these words of poetry: "We stand in front of our future . . . which opens and closes at the same time."

This afternoon Pope John Paul and I met alone in the Oval Office and discussed the future—the future of faith, the future of people, the future prospects for peace. We share a belief that "the Church must in no way be confused with the political community, nor bound to any political system." But we also spoke of opportunities we might pursue together.

We will work to renew our spiritual strength that can bear us beyond the blind materialism which brings no joy and change that into true caring for one another—in our families, in our communities, in our nations, in our common world. We will pursue this goal through action, not just through words.

I join His Holiness in urging all individuals and nations of the world to alleviate the hunger of people and the homelessness of refugees—not as political acts, but as acts of humanitarian concern. We cannot profess to love humanity and watch hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children die in human tragedy, which we ourselves can help, as a nation and as people, to prevent. It's our responsibility to provide prompt and generous aid to them through action of our own.

In another area of opportunity—concern and action on behalf of human rights—we have long shared a common purpose. As His Holiness has written, "The essential sense of the State, as a political community, consists in that the society and the people composing it are master and sovereign of their own destiny."

We call on all people and all nations to look beyond ancient hatreds, beyond differences in race and customs, traditions and beliefs, to see the shared humanity of every other human life on Earth. Whenever state and religion can do that together, then violations of the human rights of any person anywhere in the world—whatever cause may be claimed in justification of those deprivations—will be seen to be, as Your Holiness has so accurately described them, "warfare on humanity" itself.

It's abhorrent in our time to allow differences in the way God's children worship the same Father to wound each other, when our common faith could do so much to heal each other.

All of us share full responsibility for seizing another opportunity: In a world filled with weapons there can be no more urgent human passion than to wage and to win the struggle for peace—for the sake of every living thing on Earth.

We must, above all, wrest the fateful lightning of nuclear destruction from the hands of man. We must successfully conclude our nuclear arms agreements, and in this continuing effort we must find a way to end the threat of nuclear annihilation in every nation on Earth. The age of nuclear weaponry can either be long or short, as we choose.

We must continue the common struggle-the church and governments—for peace.

In closing, let me repeat the phrase from your poem: "We stand in front of our future."

Fellow Americans, in the presence of this good man, as we pause quietly for these few moments in our sometimes frantic pace, we ask ourselves: What is important? What is progress? What are we creating which we need fear? In his last words [hours] Jesus prayed for his disciples, "Holy Father, keep them in Thy name, which Thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one." And we are also reminded: "God is love."

Let all of us here of every faith stand as one—under God—for peace and justice and for love.

Let us vow that what our Creator has made—human life and human spirit-that we ourselves shall not destroy.

Let us simply choose to change the world as best we can, each one of us in our own particular place, but towards the common purposes of just societies on a peaceful planet.

Our new friend, the people of my country have waited a long time for this meeting. As human beings, each acting for justice in the present and striving together for a common future of peace and love, let us not wait so long for ourselves and for you to meet again.

Welcome to our country, our new friend.

THE POPE. Mr. President, I am honored to have had, at your kind invitation, the opportunity for a meeting with you; for by your office as President of the United States of America, you represent before the world the whole American nation, and you hold the immense responsibility of leading this nation in the path of justice and peace. I thank you publicly for this meeting, and I thank all those who have contributed to its success. I wish also to reiterate here my deep gratitude for the warm welcome and the many kindnesses which I have received from the American people on my pastoral journey through your beautiful land.

Mr. President, in responding to the kind words which you have addressed to me, I take the liberty of beginning with the passage from the Prophet Micah that you quoted at your inauguration: "You have been told, O man, what is good; and what the Lord requires of you, only to do right, and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God." In recalling these words, I wish to greet you and all the authorities in the individual States and the Nation who are committed to the good of the citizens.

There is indeed no other way to put oneself at the service of the whole human person except by seeking the good of every man and woman in all their commitments and activities. Authority in the political community is based on the objective ethical principle that the basic duty of power is the solicitude of the common good of society and that it serves the inviolable rights of the human person. The individuals, families, and various groups which compose the civic community are aware that by themselves they are unable to realize their human potential to the full, and therefore they recognize in a wider community the necessary condition for the ever better attainment of the common good.

I wish to commend those in public authority and all the people of the United States for having given, from the very beginning of the existence of this Nation, a special place to some of the most important concerns of the common good. Three years ago, during the Bicentennial celebration, which I was fortunate to participate in as the Archbishop of Krakow-as you say it, as a pastor, with many implications-several implications—it was obvious to everyone that concern for what is human and spiritual is one of the basic principles governing the life of this community. It is superfluous to add that respect for the freedom and the dignity of every individual, whatever his origin, race, sex, or creed, has been a cherished tenet of the civil creed of America, and that it has been backed up by courageous decisions and actions.

Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, I know and appreciate this country's efforts for arms limitation, especially of nuclear weapons. Everyone is aware of the terrible risk that the stockpiling of such weapons brings upon humanity. Since it is one of the greatest nations on Earth, the United States plays a particularly important part in the quest for greater security in the world and for closer international collaboration. With all my heart I hope that there will be no relaxing of its efforts, both to reduce the risk of a fatal and disastrous worldwide conflagration and to secure a prudent and progressive reduction of the destructive capacity of military arsenals.

At the same time, by reason of its special position, may the United States succeed in influencing the other nations to join in a continuing commitment for disarmament. Without wholeheartedly accepting such a commitment, how can any nation effectively serve humanity, whose deepest desire is true peace?

Attachment to human values and to ethical concerns, which have been a hallmark of the American people, must be situated, especially in the present context of the growing interdependence of peoples across the globe, within the framework of the view that the common good of society embraces not just the individual nation to which one belongs but the citizens of the whole world. I would encourage every action for the reinforcement of peace in the world, a peace based on liberty and justice, on charity and truth.

The present-day relationships between peoples and between nations demand the establishment of greater international cooperation also in the economic field. The more powerful a nation is, the greater becomes its international responsibility; the greater also must be its commitment to the betterment of the lot of those whose very humanity is constantly being threatened by want and need. It is my fervent hope that all the powerful nations in the world will deepen their awareness of the principle of human solidarity within the one great human family.

America, which in the past decades has demonstrated goodness and generosity in providing food for the hungry of the world, will, I am sure, be able to match this generosity with an equally convincing contribution to the establishing of a world order that will create the necessary economic and trade conditions for a more just relationship between all the nations of the world, in respect for their dignity and their own personality. Since people are suffering under international inequality, there can be no question of giving up the pursuit of international solidarity, even if it involves a notable change in the attitudes and lifestyles of those blessed with a larger share of the world's goods.

Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, in touching upon the common good, which embodies the aspiration of all human beings to the full development of their capacities and the proper protection of their rights, I have dealt with areas where the church that I represent and the political community that is the state share a common concern: the safeguarding of the dignity of the human person and the search for justice and peace. In their own proper spheres, the political community and the church are mutually independent and self-governing. Yet, by a different title, each serves the personal and social vocation of the same human beings.

For her part, the Catholic Church will continue her efforts to cooperate in promoting justice, peace, and dignity through the commitment of her leaders and the members of her communities and through her incessant proclamation that all human beings are created to the image and likeness of God and that they are brothers and sisters, children of one Heavenly Father.

May Almighty God bless and sustain America in her quest for the fullness of liberty, of justice, and peace.

Note: The President spoke at 4 p.m. on the South Lawn of the White House.

Jimmy Carter, Visit of Pope John Paul II Remarks at a White House Reception. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/248777

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