In the photo above, members of the Gospel choir from St. Augustine Parish in Washington sing during the Sept. 23 White House         welcoming ceremony for Pope Francis hosted by President Obama. Many in the crowd on the South Lawn held rosaries or small      American and Vatican flags. In the lower right photo, First Lady Michelle Obama joins the pope and president in waving to the crowd. (CS photos by?Leslie?Kossoff)
In the photo above, members of the Gospel choir from St. Augustine Parish in Washington sing during the Sept. 23 White House welcoming ceremony for Pope Francis hosted by President Obama. Many in the crowd on the South Lawn held rosaries or small American and Vatican flags. In the lower right photo, First Lady Michelle Obama joins the pope and president in waving to the crowd. (CS photos by?Leslie?Kossoff)
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Welcoming Pope Francis to the White House on Sept. 23, President Barack Obama praised the pontiff for his “message of love and hope (that) has inspired so many  people across our nation and around the world.”

On a sunny morning as more than 10,000 people gathered on the White House’s South Lawn for the ceremony, the president noted the important “role that the Catholic Church plays in strengthening America. From my time working in impoverished neighborhoods with the Catholic Church in Chicago, to my travels as president, I’ve seen firsthand how, every single day, Catholic communities, priests, nuns, laity are feeding the hungry, healing the sick, sheltering the homeless, educating our children, and fortifying the faith that sustains so many.”

President Obama noted that people’s excitement about the pope’s visit also reflected their admiration for his personal qualities. “In your humility, your embrace of simplicity, in the gentleness of your words and the generosity of your spirit, we see a living example of Jesus’ teachings, a leader whose moral authority comes not just through words but also through deeds,” the president said.

Pope Francis, in thanking President Obama for his welcome, said, “As a son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families.”

Underscoring themes from Laudato Si’, his recent encyclical, the pope emphasized the need to protect and care for the Earth. “It seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to our future generation,” Pope Francis said. “When it comes to the care of our common home, we are living at a critical moment of history.”

The pope said caring for “our common home” should also involve promoting   sustainable development so  the poor and excluded “may know the blessings of peace and prosperity.”

Both Pope Francis and President Obama highlighted the importance of religious liberty. The president noted how Christians around the world “are targeted and even killed because of their faith” – an issue that Pope Francis and other Catholic leaders have addressed in recent years, as Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere are facing ongoing persecution.

Calling religious freedom “one of   America’s most precious possessions,” the pontiff noted how U.S. bishops “have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten it.”

Without mentioning Cuba by name, Pope Francis praised the president’s recent efforts to re-establish diplomatic relations with that country. “Mr. President, the efforts which were recently made to mend broken relationships and to open new doors to cooperation within our human family represent positive steps along the path of reconciliation, justice and freedom,” the pope said.

In closing his remarks, President Obama offered thanks to the visiting pope, for offering a “great gift of hope,” and he welcomed him to the United States of America.