In Rome and at the Vatican, Biden found sanctuary and welcome in the Catholic community
VATICAN CITY (RNS)– In Rome and at the Vatican, President Joe Biden found a safe haven from the debates happening back home, where some U.S. bishops argue Catholic politicians need to not be allowed to receive Communion if they support abortion rights.
Biden remained in Rome from Friday (Oct. 29) to Monday to go to the G-20 top, convening leaders from the world’s greatest financial powers. On Friday, the president had a 90-minute personal audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican, the longest conference on record in between a pope and a head of state. Biden told reporters that during the meeting, the pope stated Biden was “a great Catholic” and should continue receiving Communion.
“This is a man who has terrific compassion. He is a man who comprehends that part of his Christianity is to reach out and to forgive,” Biden told press reporters Sunday.
Pope Francis gifted the U.S. president a print illustrating a pilgrim, his finger pointed towards St. Peter’s Basilica, and bring a shell, which the Vatican described as “a sign implying shelter, a haven from the misfortunes come across on the journey of meditation and spiritual growth.”
Biden participated in Mass twice during his stay in Rome, when at St. Patrick’s Church and another at the personal residence of the U.S. ambassador to Italy, in an environment described by those present as “inviting” and “prayerful.”
The warm and friendly meeting at the Vatican was in plain contrast with the heated disputes happening amongst U.S. bishops who remain in the process of preparing a file on Communion, which is poised to address Catholic illiteracy surrounding the sacrament in the United States and to raise the question of whether Catholic politicians who favor abortion rights must be allowed to receive the Eucharist.
An alleged draft of the document, leaked on Tuesday by the Catholic blog site The Pillar, suggests the document issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has taken a more soft method on the topic of Communion for abortion-rights political leaders and does not discuss Biden directly.
Catholics who “were intentionally and obstinately to repudiate her (the Catholic Church’s) definitive mentor on ethical problems,” such as supporting abortion policies, “need to refrain” from getting Communion, the dripped file states, adding that if they do get the sacrament, it would be “a contradiction” and “cause severe scandal to others.”
The bishops are slated to issue the document on Communion at their fall conference in Baltimore this month.
president “can be found in line like everyone else, he received much like everyone else.”It was the very first time a U.S. president attended Mass at St. Patrick’s. Petroff, who was a concelebrant at the Mass, had little alerting the president would go to.” To me, the most stunning thing is that he came as an
American, as a Catholic to worship and he joined us, “Petroff told Religion News Service. The day’s reading, from the Gospel of Mark(12:28 b-34), explained Jesus agreeing with a scribe about the most essential of God’s rules– to like God and neighbor– and telling him: “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.”
The Mass with Biden “wasn’t a Mass for him or about him. It was about that stunning Gospel,” Petroff said, “and he was invited.”
The Missionary Society of St. Paul, also known as the Paulists, has a long history of fostering relations between the United States and the Holy See. President Woodrow Wilson, who in January 1919 was the first president to satisfy a pope at the Vatican, asked Pope Benedict to enable Paulist missionaries to develop a house at St. Susanna’s church in Rome. They had their very first Mass at St. Susanna’s in 1922.
When the first Catholic president of the United States, John F. Kennedy, was shot and eliminated, the American Catholic neighborhood in Rome mourned the loss with a funeral Mass on Nov. 25, 1963, at St. Susanna, while Pope Paul VI supposedly wept and later condemned the “dastardly crime.”
The Rev. Steven J. Petroff. Courtesy photo 5 years earlier, the missionaries moved their home to St. Patrick’s, which is still owned by Irish Augustinians. Since then, the missionaries have actually become a point of referral for American seminarians studying at the North American College in Rome, Anglophone expats and U.S. dignitaries and diplomats.
Petroff stated he was pleased by the “banter and the friendliness” of Biden’s conference with the pope which the American neighborhood in Rome was inviting toward the U.S. president. “Not everybody feels that method,” he included, stating that they got “a reasonable quantity of pushback” from individuals in the United States.
“I grieve for the divisions that exist worldwide and we are trying our finest to conquer those in our own small way,” he included.
Petroff was also present when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, another Catholic who has actually supported abortion-rights policies, visited Rome and the Vatican in mid-October. The Paulists have a long custom of serving as pastors at the English-language Marymount International School in Rome, and Petroff was happy to have a few of the trainees, a lot of whom are children of foreign diplomats or come from the United States, exist throughout the Mass and have a chance to satisfy Pelosi.
“You could just see she was beaming below the mask,” he stated. Pelosi had to be accompanied out of the church before completion of the service due to violent demonstrations against vaccine mandates in the close-by Roman streets.
Biden’s 2nd Mass in Rome occurred Tuesday– All Saints’ Day, when Catholics commemorate all saints understood and unknown– in a little room of the private home of the U.S. ambassador to Italy. Swapping the magnificence of St. Patrick’s for a more improvised setting– where a coffee table functioned as altar– the president took part in the Eucharist surrounded by Catholic members of his Cabinet.
“It was an honor and an opportunity to celebrate liturgy with the president and a few members of his group on a feast day when we commemorate men and women who aren’t best but became holy though their humankind made entire by God’s grace, and overcame their own drawbacks and catastrophes to be of service to other people,” said the celebrant, Jesuit priest David McCallum, in an interview with RNS.
“It was so not a political stunt,” he stated, including he was moved by the humility and prayerfulness of the little event. “No matter who was participating in or their function, everyone existed because they wished to pray and participate actively in the Eucharist,” he said.
The president talented McCallum with a governmental obstacle coin similar to the one he provided to Pope Francis during their conference at the Vatican. “He’s such a devoted friend of the Jesuits,” McCallum said, adding that twice after the Mass Biden said: “God bless the Jesuits!”