WASHINGTON (CNS) — President Barack Obama said his visit to the Holy Land just before Easter gave him “blessed moments” praying at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and walking where Jesus did, he said at a prayer breakfast at the White House April 5.
“I had a chance to pray and reflect on Christ’s birth, and his life, his sacrifice, his resurrection,” Obama said in remarks at the annual breakfast he hosts for Christian religious leaders around Easter. “I thought about all the faithful pilgrims who for 2,000 years have done the same thing — giving thanks for the fact that, as the book of Romans tells us, ‘Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.'”
“For Christians to walk where he walked and see what he saw are blessed moments,” he said. Though he’d been to Jerusalem before, Obama told the gathering, this was his first visit to the church said to mark the spot where Jesus was born.
He joked that observing how the Bethlehem church is managed by monks from three traditions — Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic — gave him “useful instruction, to see how managing different sections of the church and different clergy … it feels familiar. Let’s just put it that way.”
Obama was in the West Bank, Israel and Jordan March 19-23.
In his remarks at the breakfast, Vice President Joe Biden commented on the homily Pope Francis gave at his inauguration Mass March 19, which Biden attended.
“For me, the essence of my faith is tolerance,” said Biden, a Catholic, “not being judgmental about people of different faiths. When I was in Rome a few weeks ago, Pope Francis spoke movingly in his homily about our commitments to each other, not just as people of faith … but as human beings.”
Biden said he was incredibly impressed with the homily and Pope Francis’ sense of social justice. “But I believe his message reads something essential about all faiths, and … ultimately we all believe that we have a responsibility to one another and we all are our brothers’ and our sisters’ keepers.”
Although often the world’s focus is on what divides people, Biden said, “when it comes down to it, we all know that we’re connected by much more than divides us.”
As the nation moves forward, “I do believe we’re going to be judged on how we answer that call — that call of moral responsibility, to whether we stand up for those who have the least among us, whether we act on their behalf,” he continued.
Among the 150 guests for the breakfast, according to news reports and a partial list released by the White House, were Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, who offered the opening prayer; Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl; Greek Orthodox Archbishop Demetrios; the Rev. Al Sharpton; Sister Simone Campbell, the Sister of Social Service who heads Network; Bishop T.D. Jakes, senior pastor of the Potter’s House; the Rev. Kathryn Lohre of the National Council of Churches; and the Rev. Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.
In his comments, Obama said that as he prayed at the Church of the Nativity in March, “I thought of the poor and the sick who seek comfort, and the marginalized and the forsaken who seek solace, and the grateful who merely seek to offer thanks for the simple blessings of this life and the awesome glory of the next. I thought of all who would travel to this place for centuries to come and the lives they might know.
“And I was reminded that while our time on earth is fleeting, (God) is eternal. His life, his lessons live on in our hearts and, most importantly, in our actions,” he continued. “When we tend to the sick, when we console those in pain, when we sacrifice for those in need, wherever and whenever we are there to give comfort and to guide and to love, then Christ is with us.”