|For Immediate Release||January 26, 1999|
THE PRESIDENT: Your Holiness; Archbishop Rigali; Archbishop Montalvo; Governor Carnahan; Mayor Harmon; County Executive Westfall; Ambassador Boggs; members of Congress; members of the Cabinet; our visitors from the Vatican; my fellow Americans: Your Holiness, on behalf of all of us gathered here today, indeed on behalf of all the people of our beloved nation, we welcome you back to America. (Applause.)
Your return brings joy not only to the Catholic faithful, but to every American who has heard your message of peace and charity toward all God's children. And we thank you for first going to Mexico, and for reaching out to all the people of the Americas.
We greet you and we thank you. For 20 years you have lifted our spirits and touched our hearts. For 20 years -- (applause) -- for 20 years you have challenged us to think of life not in terms of what we acquire for ourselves, but in terms of what we give of ourselves. (Applause.)
This is your seventh visit to the United States, your 85th visit abroad as the Bishop of Rome. Through it all you have given of yourself, with a boundless physical energy which can only find its source in limitless faith. (Applause.) You have come in the final year of a century that has seen much suffering, but which ends with great hope for freedom and reconciliation. It is a moment anticipated by countless prayers, brought forward by countless hands, and shaped very much by you, Holy Father, and your 20-year pilgrimage. (Applause.)
We honor you for helping to lead a revolution of values and spirit in Central Europe and the former Soviet Union; freeing millions to live by conscience, not coercion; and freeing all of us from the constant fear of nuclear war. We honor you for standing for human dignity, human rights, and religious freedom -- (applause) -- and for helping people to find the courage to stand up for themselves -- from Africa to Asia to the Western Hemisphere.
We honor you for your work to bring peace to nations and peoples divided by old hatreds and suspicions. From Bosnia and Kosovo, to Central Africa, to Indonesia, to the Middle East, even to our own communities, people still need to hear your message that all are God's children, all have fallen short of His glory; all the injustices of yesterday cannot excuse a single injustice today. (Applause.)
Holy Father, we are moved by your desire to mark the new millennium with a journey to Jerusalem, to bring mercy and reconciliation to all those who believe in one God, in the holy place where all our faiths began.
Your Holiness, we honor you, too, because you have never let those of us who enjoy the blessings of prosperity, freedom and peace forget our responsibilities.
On your last visit to the United States you called on us to build a society truly worthy of the human person; a society in which none are so poor they have nothing to give, and none are so rich they have nothing to receive. Today you visit an America that is thriving, but also striving -- striving to include those who do not yet share in our prosperity at home, and striving to put a human face on the global economy by advancing the dignity of work, the rights of women, the well-being of children, and the help of our common environment.
You will see an America that is not simply living for today, but working for future generations. An America working harder to be what you have asked us to be: an example of justice and civic virtues, freedom fulfilled and goodness at home and abroad.
The Catholic Church in America is helping all of us to realize that vision. Here in St. Louis, Catholic charities are helping families conquer violence and drug abuse; helping people in need to find work, and to finance their first homes; helping refugees from war-torn lands to build new lives; building housing for the elderly, including the new Pope John Paul II Apartments; and leading countless other efforts that lift our people's lives. (Applause.)
All over our country, the Catholic faithful do this work for the sake of all Americans, and they are joined in their work by Americans of all faiths.
Your Holiness, every American welcomes you and hopes that you will come to see us again. (Applause.) I am nowhere near as gifted a linguist as you are, Holy Father, but as they say in your native Poland, sto lat I wiecej -- may you live a hundred years and more. (Applause.) And may you keep working and teaching and lighting the way, for all of us and all the world. Welcome to the United States. (Applause.)
HIS HOLINESS POPE JOHN PAUL II: Are you interested in what I said to the President before? I said to him, one hundred years, slowly, slow. (Laughter.)
Mr. President, dear people of St. Louis, dear people of the United States: It is a great joy for me to return to the United States and to experience once more your warm hospitality. As you know, I have been in Mexico, to celebrate the conclusion of the Special Assembly for America of the Synod of Bishops. The purpose of that important meeting was to prepare the Church to enter the new millennium and to encourage a new sense of solidarity among the peoples of the continent. Now I am happy to be able to bring this message to mid-America, on the banks of the Mississippi -- (applause) -- in this historic city of St. Louis, the Gateway to the West. (Applause.)
I am very grateful to you, Mr. President, for your courtesy in meeting me on my arrival. I likewise greet the Governor and authorities of the state of Missouri, as well as the Mayor of St. Louis and the other officials of the city and surrounding areas. So many people have offered their generous cooperation in preparation for this visit, and I am grateful to them all. (Applause.)
As Pastor of the universal Church, I am particularly happy to greet the Catholic community of the Archdiocese of St. Louis -- (applause) -- with its rich spiritual heritage and its dynamic traditions of service to those in need. I wish to say a special word of appreciation to Archbishop Justin Rigali --
(applause) -- who has been close to me since I became Pope 20 years ago. (Applause.) I am looking forward to being with the priests, deacons, religious and laity of this local Church, which has exercised such influence on the history of the Midwest.
With deep thanks, I greet the cardinals and bishops. Their presence gives me an opportunity to send my good wishes to the whole province of St.
Louis and its ecclesiastical region -- (applause) -- and to all the dioceses of this country. Although St. Louis is the only place I am able to visit at this time, I feel close to all the Catholics of the United States. (Applause.)
I express my friendship and esteem for my fellow Christians, for the Jewish community in America, for the Muslim brothers and sisters. I express my cordial respect for people of all religions and for every person of goodwill. (Applause.)
As history is retold, the name of St. Louis will be forever linked to the first transatlantic flight, and to the immense human endeavor and daring behind the name -- the Spirit of St. Louis. (Applause.)
You are preparing for the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase made in 1804 by President Thomas Jefferson. That anniversary presents a challenge of religious and civic renewal to the entire community. It will be the opportunity to reassert the Spirit of St. Louis and to reaffirm the genuine truths and values of the American experience. (Applause.)
There are times of trial, tests of national character, in the history of every country. America has not been immune to them. Once such time of trial is closely connected with St. Louis. Here, the famous Dred Scott case was heard. And in that case the Supreme Court of the United States subsequently declared an entire class of human beings -- people of African descent -- outside the boundaries of the national community and the Constitution's protection. After untold suffering and with enormous effort, that situation has, at least in part, been reversed. (Applause.)
America faces a similar time of trial today. Today, the conflict is between a culture that affirms, cherishes, and celebrates the gift of life, and a culture that seeks to declare entire groups of human beings -- the unborn, the terminally ill, the handicapped and others considered "unuseful" -- to be outside the boundaries of legal protection. (Applause.)
Only a higher moral vision can motivate the choice for life. And the values underlying that vision will greatly depend on whether the nation continues to honor and revere the family as the basic unit of society: the
family -- teacher of love, service, understanding and forgiveness; the family -- open and generous to the needs of others; the family -- the great wellspring of human happiness. (Applause.)
Mr. President, dear friends, I am pleased to have another opportunity to thank the American people for the countless works of human goodness and solidarity which, from the beginning, have been such a part of the history of your country. At the same time, I know that you will hear my plea to open wide your hearts to the ever-increasing plight and urgent needs of our less fortunate brothers and sisters throughout the world. (Applause.)
This, too -- the spirit of compassion, concern and generous sharing
must be part of the Spirit of St. Louis. (Applause.) Even more, it must be the renewed spirit of this one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all. (Applause.)
God bless you all. God bless America. (Applause.)
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