Saying he had come as a friend of the United States, Pope Benedict urged Americans and their leaders on Wednesday to base their political and social decisions on moral principles and create a more just society.
In an address to President George W. Bush at the White House on the first full day of his U.S. visit, the pope also called for “patient efforts of international diplomacy to resolve conflicts” and promote progress around the world.
“I come as a friend, a preacher of the Gospel and one with great respect for this vast pluralistic society,” Benedict said in a speech after Bush welcomed him to the White House at a ceremony that included 21-gun salute.
Bush cited the role of faith in U.S. life, which the pope had praised in remarks to journalists traveling with him as he crossed the Atlantic.
“Here in America, you’ll find a nation that welcomes the role of religion in the public square,” Bush said.
“In a world where some evoke the name of God to justify acts of terror and murder and hate, we need your message that God is love. And embracing this love is the surest way to save man from falling prey to the teaching of fanaticism and terrorism,” he said.
The pope, marking his 81st birthday, was full of praise for American society, sprinkling his speech with references to the founding fathers—citing the Declaration of Independence and the first president, George Washington.
But he made no specific references to issues such as abortion and the war in Iraq, appearing at pains to avoid saying anything that could be seen as taking sides in the presidential campaign apart from saying that freedom called for “reasoned public debate.”
Benedict and Bush both oppose abortion and embryonic stem cell research, but differ on questions such as the Iraq war and capital punishment.
Instead, the pope concentrated on America’s religious roots, which he said were a driving force in a process that “forged the soul of the nation” and won the admiration of the world.