An initiation in religion for President Joe Biden

WASHINGTON (RNS) – President Joe Biden started inauguration day as well as election day and most Sundays in between: He attended church.

But this time he took America with him.

It was just before 9:00 a.m. when Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris walked into the pews of the Cathedral of the Apostle Matthew, also known as Matthew.

“As you have done so often in your public and private lives and during the campaign, Joe and Jill, you established this day on your faith and the familiar readings and prayers of these sacred rituals,” said Rev. Kevin O’Brien . said a Jesuit priest and president of Santa Clara University during his sermon.

“My deepest prayer for you today as a priest, citizen and friend is that you will always remember that the Lord is near and that God wants to give you peace, a deep peace no matter how loud and angry you get support. “

Guests attend the 59th Inauguration of the President at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Wednesday, January 20, 2021. (AP Photo / Carolyn Kaster)

President-elect Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden attend Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle during Inauguration Day ceremonies in Washington on Wednesday, January 20, 2021. (AP Photo / Evan Vucci)

The group sat and heard performances by violinist Patricia Treacy and the Gospel Choir of St. Augustine, a historic Black Catholic church in Washington. Also among the musical numbers: Renée Fleming sings “On Eagle’s Wings”, the same hymn that Biden mentioned in his election victory speech.

It was a suitably spiritual start to a day of faith and an unapologetically religious term as president for Biden, the second Catholic president in US history. And unlike his predecessor Donald Trump, who often spoke of Christianity being under attack, Biden on Wednesday invoked faith as a tool for healing and unity.

In fact, unity was literally the topic of the day, and Biden baked it into practically every aspect of his inauguration, including going to church: At the invitation of the President, legislators from both parties – Sens. Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer, and members of Congress like Nancy Pelosi, Kevin McCarthy, Roy Blunt, and Steny Hoyer sat with him in the pews.

Unity reappeared hours later in the U.S. Capitol when Father Dr. Leo O’Donovan, a Jesuit priest and past president of Georgetown University, forwarded the invitation to Biden’s official dedication ceremony.

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden, center, walk near the White House along with other members of the Biden family during a presidential escort to the White House on Wednesday, January 20, 2021 in Washington. RNA photo by Jack Jenkins

“We come (to God) even more with hope and with new eyes to the vision of a more perfect union in our country,” said O’Donovan. “An association of all our citizens to promote the common welfare and to secure the blessings of freedom for ourselves and our posterity. We have people of many races, creeds, national origins, cultures and styles. “

After referring to Solomon and the Book of James, he quoted Pope Francis’ recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti, in which he wrote about the need to dream together: “We alone risk seeing illusions. Things that are not there. Dreams, on the other hand, are built together. “

After Biden had laid his hand on his family’s 127-year-old Bible and swore the oath of office a few minutes later, it was up to the newly minted President to speak – or more precisely to preach: He began a speech that it was characteristically filled with religious references and appeals to the divine.

Biden said his “whole soul” was invested in the project to “bring America together and unite our nation”. He insisted that “History, Faith and Reason” will show “the way of unity”. He appealed to St. Augustine who said: “A people is a multitude defined by a common object of their love.”

Vice President Kamala Harris, center, and her husband Doug Emhoff and family go outside the White House in Washington on Wednesday, January 20, 2021 during a presidential escort to the White House. RNA photo by Jack Jenkins

“What are the common objects that we love as Americans and that define us as Americans?” Asked Biden. “I think we know: opportunity, security, freedom, dignity, respect, honor and, yes, the truth.”

Biden encouraged the American people to face future challenges, to speak of “better angels,” and to insist that their fellow citizens “are born of faith, driven by conviction, one another and the land we love with all our hearts.”

Finally, he turned to Scripture as he recognized America’s collective grief over the more than 400,000 deaths caused by the novel coronavirus.

“As the Bible says, ‘Weeping may go on for the night, but joy comes in the morning.’ We’ll get through this together! ”Declared Biden.

President Joe Biden inclines his head as he speaks during the 59th President’s inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Wednesday, January 20, 2021 (AP Photo / Carolyn Kaster)

But Biden, who has long referred to faith as a guide to his own mourning process, also led the country in a moment of silent prayer to remember “400,000 fellow Americans: mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, friends, Neighbors and employees. “

Despite the country grappling with what he called the “time of testing”, Biden remained defiant that Americans might prevail and urged listeners to “add our own work and prayers to the unfolding stories of our great nation” .

Country singer Garth Brooks also offered a performance of the hymn “Amazing Grace” and asked those in attendance and at home to sing along.

The conversation with God continued after he finished. Amanda Gorman, the first youth poet in the United States, delivered a poem in which she referred to Micah 4: 4: “Everyone will sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one will frighten them.”

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden, center, embrace at the north portico of the White House in Washington on Wednesday, January 20, 2021. RNA photo by Jack Jenkins

She was followed by Rev. Silvester S. Beaman, pastor of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Wilmington, Delaware, who offered a lofty blessing calling on America to “make friends with the lonely, the lowly, and the frolic” and “love that.” Unpleasant. “

“This is our blessing,” he said. “That of those sacred grounds where slave labor built this shrine and citadel to freedom of democracy; Let’s all acknowledge the indigenous Native American; to those who have recently obtained their citizenship; from African American to those whose ancestors came from Europe and all over the world; from the rich to those struggling to make it; for everyone, regardless of their choice, that this is our land (and) as such, oh God, teaches us … to live in it, to love in it, to be healed in it and to be reconciled in it. “

And in case anyone thought Biden’s public Catholicism was unique, the president ended his day with a subtle signal that more is to come. When he sat in the Oval Office and spoke to reporters for the first time, eagle-eyed journalists noticed a series of photos behind them.

Most of them are family members, but at least one shows him shaking hands with someone else: Pope Francis.

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