Mr. President,Thank you for your gracious words of welcome on behalf of the people of theUnited States of America. I deeply appreciate your invitation to visit thisgreat country. My visit coincides with an important moment in the life ofthe Catholic community in America: the celebration of the two-hundredthanniversary of the elevation of the country's first Diocese – Baltimore –to a metropolitan Archdiocese, and the establishment of the Sees of NewYork, Boston, Philadelphia and Louisville. Yet I am happy to be here as aguest of all Americans. I come as a friend, a preacher of the Gospel andone with great respect for this vast pluralistic society. America'sCatholics have made, and continue to make, an excellent contribution to thelife of their country. As I begin my visit, I trust that my presence willbe a source of renewal and hope for the Church in the United States, andstrengthen the resolve of Catholics to contribute ever more responsibly tothe life of this nation, of which they are proud to be citizens.
From the dawn of the Republic, America's quest for freedom has been guidedby the conviction that the principles governing political and social lifeare intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God theCreator. The framers of this nation's founding documents drew upon thisconviction when they proclaimed the "self-evident truth" that all men arecreated equal and endowed with inalienable rights grounded in the laws ofnature and of nature's God. The course of American history demonstrates thedifficulties, the struggles, and the great intellectual and moral resolvewhich were demanded to shape a society which faithfully embodied thesenoble principles. In that process, which forged the soul of the nation, religious beliefs were a constant inspiration and driving force, as forexample in the struggle against slavery and in the civil rights movement.In our time too, particularly in moments of crisis, Americans continue tofind their strength in a commitment to this patrimony of shared ideals and aspirations.
In the next few days, I look forward to meeting not only with America'sCatholic community, but with other Christian communities andrepresentatives of the many religious traditions present in this country.Historically, not only Catholics, but all believers have found here thefreedom to worship God in accordance with the dictates of their conscience,while at the same time being accepted as part of a commonwealth in whicheach individual and group can make its voice heard. As the nation faces theincreasingly complex political and ethical issues of our time, I amconfident that the American people will find in their religious beliefs aprecious source of insight and an inspiration to pursue reasoned,responsible and respectful dialogue in the effort to build a more humaneand free society.
Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility.Americans know this from experience – almost every town in this country hasits monuments honoring those who sacrificed their lives in defense offreedom, both at home and abroad. The preservation of freedom calls for thecultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good and asense of responsibility towards the less fortunate. It also demands thecourage to engage in civic life and to bring one's deepest beliefs andvalues to reasoned public debate. In a word, freedom is ever new. It is achallenge held out to each generation, and it must constantly be won overfor the cause of good (cf. Spe Salvi, 24). Few have understood this asclearly as the late Pope John Paul II. In reflecting on the spiritual victory of freedom over totalitarianism in his native Poland and in easternEurope, he reminded us that history shows, time and again, that "in a worldwithout truth, freedom loses its foundation", and a democracy withoutvalues can lose its very soul (cf. Centesimus Annus, 46). Those propheticwords in some sense echo the conviction of President Washington, expressedin his Farewell Address, that religion and morality represent"indispensable supports" of political prosperity.
The Church, for her part, wishes to contribute to building a world evermore worthy of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God(cf. Gen 1:26-27). She is convinced that faith sheds new light on allthings, and that the Gospel reveals the noble vocation and sublime destinyof every man and woman (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 10). Faith also gives us thestrength to respond to our high calling, and the hope that inspires us towork for an ever more just and fraternal society. Democracy can only flourish, as your founding fathers realized, when political leaders andthose whom they represent are guided by truth and bring the wisdom born offirm moral principle to decisions affecting the life and future of the nation.
For well over a century, the United States of America has played animportant role in the international community. On Friday, God willing, Iwill have the honor of addressing the United Nations Organization, where Ihope to encourage the efforts under way to make that institution an evermore effective voice for the legitimate aspirations of all the world'speoples. On this, the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration ofHuman Rights, the need for global solidarity is as urgent as ever, if allpeople are to live in a way worthy of their dignity – as brothers andsisters dwelling in the same house and around that table which God's bounty has set for all his children. America has traditionally shown herselfgenerous in meeting immediate human needs, fostering development andoffering relief to the victims of natural catastrophes. I am confident thatthis concern for the greater human family will continue to find expressionin support for the patient efforts of international diplomacy to resolveconflicts and promote progress. In this way, coming generations will beable to live in a world where truth, freedom and justice can flourish – aworld where the God-given dignity and rights of every man, woman and childare cherished, protected and effectively advanced.
Mr. President, dear friends: as I begin my visit to the United States, Iexpress once more my gratitude for your invitation, my joy to be in yourmidst, and my fervent prayers that Almighty God will confirm this nationand its people in the ways of justice, prosperity and peace. God blessAmerica!