Abortion Aside, Clinton and Pope ‘Share Values’ : Religion: Pontiff urges America to ‘defend life.’ But first meeting between leaders is warm and wide-ranging.
Meeting Bill Clinton for the first time, an aging Pope John Paul II on Thursday stressed the “right to life” to a young President who backs abortion rights, but the two found common ground on a range of other social and international issues.
The Pope urged the United States to rededicate itself to its founding moral principles as leader of an international crusade for human rights and “authentic freedom.”
The private meeting between the leaders was warm, animated and wide-ranging. In separate remarks the Pope and the President stressed that they had laid the foundation for a close U.S.-Vatican relationship to confront international issues of mutual concern.
Beginning a four-day visit as patron of an international youth festival organized by his church, John Paul was not shy in reiterating his anti-abortion views.
“If you want equal justice for all and true freedom and lasting peace, then, America, defend life,” John Paul said with Clinton at his side. “All the great causes that are yours today will have meaning only to the extent that you guarantee the right to life and protect the human person.”
The Pope’s references to abortion Thursday were indirect, non-confrontational and broke no new ground.
In fact, what was clear after Thursday’s complimentary public remarks is that John Paul’s view of what is wrong with the world and how to fix it is a lot closer to Clinton’s than it was to George Bush’s or Ronald Reagan’s.
The Pope made plain that in his view, one of the most self-evident truths is that the strong have an obligation to help the weak.
“The bounty and providence of God has laid an enormous responsibility on the people and the government of the United States. But that burden is also the opportunity for true greatness,” John Paul said. “Together with millions of people around the globe, I share the profound hope that in the present international situation, the United States will spare no effort in advancing authentic freedom and in fostering human rights and solidarity.
“The American people possess the intelligence and will to meet the challenge of rededicating themselves with renewed vigor to fostering the truths on which this country was founded and by which it grew,” the Pope said.
Clinton was lavish in his praise of the Pope. “All Americans, without regard to their religion, are all grateful to you, your holiness, for your moral leadership. For we know you were the force to light the spark of freedom over communism in your native Poland and throughout Eastern Europe,” Clinton said in his welcoming address.
The two men met alone for 35 minutes at Regis University, a Jesuit school outside Denver, and for another 45 minutes with aides present. The Pope also met Clinton’s wife and daughter, giving the family a Bible.
The President called the meeting “cordial and productive,” saying that it laid the foundation for a close working relationship with the Vatican. The Pope seconded the view en route to a gigantic rally with young people from around the world.
“We shared many values and perspectives,” Clinton said, noting that he and the Pope had addressed social problems that concern them both. They also discussed international topics ranging from Haiti to Somalia to Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the move toward full relations between the Vatican and Israel.
“I, like every other person who has ever met him, was profoundly impressed by the depth of his holiness’s conviction, the depth of his faith, and the depth of his commitment to continue on his mission,” Clinton said.
At Stapleton International Airport, Clinton, a Baptist, reminded an approving Pope that he had been taught by nuns in primary school and by Jesuit priests at university.
“You have been an advocate for peace and justice among nations and peoples, a strong voice calling for an end to hatred and hunger everywhere,” said Clinton, who later flew to Oakland for a speech today.
Clinton lauded the Pope for “reminding people blessed with abundance that they must offer special comfort to the poor and the dispossessed. . . . America is a better, strong, more just nation because of the influence that you have had on our world in recent years.”
At the World Youth Day gathering, more than 90,000 festive young people jammed Mile High Stadium, their spirits not dampened by occasional rain. Lightning storms illuminated the skies as chains of young pilgrims snaked down the aisles to the field level.
Some of them unfurled their national flags and held them high for others to pass beneath. Others started “the wave” in a scene reminiscent of Dodger Stadium. And several times, they stomped their feet in turn, sending a sonic wave around the stadium.
In between, the crowd watched a huge screen, cheering when live footage of the Pope at Regis University was shown, booing when Clinton appeared.
To deafening cheers, John Paul had entered the stadium in his “Popemobile,” alternately clasping his hands together, waving and giving the joyful crowd his papal blessing. Hundreds in the crowd ran across the field toward him as his vehicle circled the stadium.
At the stage he ascended the stairs, and as he reached the top step, a trumpet fanfare sounded. Fourteen young people greeted him there as kettle drums rolled out a primitive beat.
One of them, Martin Hicks, 25, an employee of the Los Angeles Archdiocese and a parishioner of St. Cecilia’s Roman Catholic Church in South-Central Los Angeles, told the Pope: “This gathering under your spiritual guidance will bridge a multiethnic diversity and background. We pray this will allow us to love one another more.”
John Paul began his third visit to the United States in good spirits, seemingly restored from the rigors of three long and hot days in Jamaica and Mexico that cost him about five pounds. His voice rose in the same cause and cadence as on his last visit to the United States in 1987.
Noting that he had come to preside at his church’s eighth international youth celebration, the Pope told Clinton that young people around the world “are striving for a better world” and deserve to be accepted by world leaders “as true partners in the construction of a more humane, more just, more compassionate world.”
In his visits to more than 100 countries, the Pope said, he has been “deeply moved” by the almost universal conditions of difficulty in which young people grow up and live. “Too many sufferings are visited upon them by natural calamities, famines, epidemics, by economic and political crises, by the atrocities of war,” John Paul told the President.
The Pope also noted his preoccupations with conflicts in the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans, calling for more effective international structures “for maintaining and promoting justice and peace.” All those issues and others, including the move of the Vatican and Israel to open diplomatic relations, were grist for the conversation between the two leaders.
Even in societies of plenty like the United States, John Paul told the President in his arrival remarks, young people’s paths are often difficult, afflicted by “a serious moral crisis” as a result of “the breakdown of family values and stability.”
America, he said, must rededicate itself to the “high moral vision” on which it was founded to effectively confront the problems of its children and to endow them “with a robust sense of responsibility to the common good.”
Moral commitments enshrined in American milestones like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution “sustain values which have led people all over the world to look to America with hope and respect,” John Paul said.
Today, the 73-year-old pontiff said, a system of shared moral values must continue to underlie the United States as it moves toward a new century.
“No country, not even the most powerful, can endure if it deprives its own children of this essential good. Respect for the dignity and worth of every person, integrity and responsibility as well as understanding, compassion and solidarity toward others, survive only if they are passed on in families, in schools and through the communications media.”
In his remarks, Clinton underlined his support for the social mission of the Catholic church, quoting a line from the inaugural address of President John F. Kennedy: “We must always remember that here on Earth, God’s work must be our own.”
Reminding the airport crowd of his departing remarks when he last left the United States in 1987, John Paul said: “The ultimate test of your greatness is the way you treat every human being, but especially the weakest and most defenseless ones. The best traditions of your land presume respect for those who cannot defend themselves.”
In greeting the cheering young crowd at Mile High Stadium, the Pope stuck close to the theme of a World Youth Day he last visited in Czestochowa, Poland, in 1991.
“We come to Denver as pilgrims,” John Paul said. “Pilgrims set out for a destination. In our case it is not so much a place or a shrine that we seek to honor. Ours is a pilgrimage to a modern city, a symbolic destination: The metropolis is the place which determines the lifestyle and the history of a large part of the human family at the end of the 20th Century.”
The theme of the meeting is life, John Paul told the crowd, quoting Christ’s words from the Gospel of St. John: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
“My purpose in this first meeting with you is to invite you to enter into the depths of your hearts and to live the next few days as a real encounter with Jesus Christ,” the Pope said, offering greetings in 14 languages, Croatian to Swahili.
After an early Mass this morning with American bishops here for the celebrations, John Paul will take a rare day off. He will fly by helicopter to St. Malo, a retreat center in the Rockies 70 miles north of Denver. From there, with a small group of aides, the Pope will go hiking, one of his favorite pastimes.
Times religion writer Larry B. Stammer contributed to this story.
* PLEA FOR BESIEGED BOSNIA: Pope urges Christian world to rescue Bosnia’s Muslims. A6
The Pope in America
The event is part of a biennial appeal to youth started by Pope John Paul II eight years ago. The gathering ends Sunday.
HIGHLIGHTS OF HIS U.S. STAY (Pacific times)
FRIDAY 6:30 a.m.--Pope holds Mass for U.S. bishops. 7:45 a.m.--Pope is presented with mementos by youths. 6:30 p.m.--Stations of the Cross, Mile High Stadium.
SATURDAY 7 a.m.--World Youth Day participants leave Civic Center Park on 14-mile pilgrimage to Cherry Creek State Park. 8 a.m.--Papal Mass with World Youth Day delegates. 2:30 p.m.--Archdiocese of Denver welcomes Pope. 6 p.m.--Pope holds vigil with youths.
SUNDAY 8:30 a.m.--Papal Mass. 3:30 p.m.--Papal audience with Vietnamese Catholics. 6:15 p.m.--Pope departs for Rome.
U.S. CHURCH MEMBERSHIP Protestants: 87 million (55%) Roman Catholics: 59 million (37) Jewish: 6 million (4) Eastern churches: 4 million (3) Others: 1 million (1)
DENVER’S CATHOLICS Denver’s Roman Catholic population: 332,000 Total population: 2,358,754
ERODING POPULARITY The popularity of Pope John Paul II has among Americans has dropped, according to polls taken by George Gallup Jr. Here is how he ranks among the most-admired people in the world:
(Gallup survey of 1,000 or more adults for each of the years shown.) FACT SHEET * Nearly 170,000 young Catholics registered for World Youth Day--twice the number originally expected. * Seventy percent of the participants are from the United States. * Ages of the participants range from 13 to 39, but half are 13 to 17. * An estimated 70 countries are represented. * This is the Popes 60th international trip, the third to the United States, of his 15-year papacy.
Sources: Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches, National Catholic Directory, Associated Press, Religious News Service