POPE FRANCIS has assured Donald Trump, sworn in last Friday as the 45th President of the United States, of his prayers, and has told a newspaper that he will defer judgement on his presidency, a year after appearing to imply that Mr Trump was not a Christian.
In a message from Rome, the Pope told Mr Trump that he was praying for “wisdom and strength in the exercise of your high office”.
“I pray that your decisions will be guided by the rich spiritual and ethical values that have shaped the history of the American people and your nation’s commitment to the advancement of human dignity and freedom worldwide. Under your leadership, may America’s stature continue to be measured above all by its concern for the poor, the outcast and those in need.”
Last February, during the presidential election campaign, the Pope was asked his thoughts on Mr Trump during a visit to Mexico. He replied: “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel. I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that.”
This was a reference to the Trump campaign promise to build a wall along the Mexican border to reduce illegal immigration. Mr Trump called the intervention “disgraceful”.
The Pope ends his new message: “I ask the Lord to grant you and your family, and all the beloved American people, his blessings of peace, concord and every material and spiritual prosperity.”
In an interview that in the Spanish newspaper El Pais on Sunday, the Pope said that he would “wait and see” how President Trump governed. “I don’t like to get ahead of myself nor judge people prematurely. We will see how he acts, what he does, and then I will have an opinion.”
He did, however, criticise populist leaders around the world who appealed to fear and uncertainty and promoted the building of walls, literally or metaphorically, to keep out those who threatened their identity.
DANIELLE E. THOMAS/WASHINGTON NATIONAL CATHEDRAL
Participation: the Dean of Washington National Cathedral, the Very Revd Randy HollerithCredit: DANIELLE E. THOMAS/WASHINGTON NATIONAL CATHEDRAL
Participation: the Dean of Washington National Cathedral, the Very Revd Randy Hollerith
The presidential inauguration ceremony included readings and prayers by Christian leaders, including the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and Paula White, a televangelist who leads a megachurch in Florida and is close to the President.
The President’s inaugural address quoted from the Psalms: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”
The president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the Revd Samuel Rodriguez, read from St Matthew’s Gospel: “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”
Commentators suggested that the inauguration ceremony was perhaps the most Evangelical in recent times.
Following custom, the President attended a service in Washington National Cathedral on Saturday. Opening the ecumenical and interfaith service, the Bishop of Washington, the Rt Revd Mariann Edgar Budde, said: “As we mark this moment of political transition, let us all draw strength and courage from the sacred texts and songs from the many traditions of our land.”
A rabbi, an imam, a Hindu priest, and a Baha’i leader also took part.
The Dean, the Very Revd Randy Hollerith, who earlier in the week had issued a statement defending the cathedral’s choir’s participation in the inauguration ceremony (News, 20 January), read a prayer that included a petition to “break down the walls that separate us”.
In contrast, at a service near the White House on the morning of the inauguration, a Southern Baptist pastor, the Revd Robert Jeffress, had preached before Mr Trump on the story of Nehemiah, who rebuilt Jerusalem’s walls after the return of Judah from exile. “You see, God is not against building walls,” Mr Jeffress had said.
He had suggested that Nehemiah’s biblical opponents Sanballat and Tobiah were the equivalent of the “mainstream media”, who were criticising and spreading false rumours to stop the building of the wall on the Mexican border.
Mr Jeffress is widely known for his provocative public comments on Islam and other faiths, and in condemnation of homosexuality.
One of President Trump’s first acts was to sign an executive order that began to undo the workings of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s expansion of health-insurance provision.
Despite opposing the Act seven years ago, because of fears concerning contraception and abortion funding, the US Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference has published a letter urging the Trump administration not to repeal it without immediately replacing it, so that millions of Americans who have gained insurance coverage for the first time are not left uninsured.
Off-message: Dennis Cole, of Tuscumbia, Alabama, holds a sign before the start of a protest in Nashville on Friday, organised to observe 15 minutes of silence to coincide with Mr Trump’s taking the oath of office in WashingtonCredit: ap
Off-message: Dennis Cole, of Tuscumbia, Alabama, holds a sign before the start of a protest in Nashville on Friday, organised to observe 15 minutes of silence to coincide with Mr Trump’s taking the oath of office in Washington