At this morning's White House Easter prayer breakfast, President Obama talked of yesterday's shooting incidents in Kansas City, this sudden example of the ferocity of anti-Semtitism and the necessity of Americans to be free of fear of such gun violence, particulalry in places of worhsip. He also discussed his recent visit with Pope Francis in Rome and the inspiration he drew from that Vatican introduction.
The awful events yesterday in Kansas forced a hasty rewrite of the president's prepared remarks. "This morning our prayers are with the people of Overland Park," the president told the assembled religious leaders. "A gunman opened fire at two Jewish facilities—a community center and a retirement home. Innocent people were killed. Their families were devastated. And this violence has struck the heart of the Jewish community in Kansas City. That this occurred now—as Jews were preparing to celebrate Passover, as Christians were observing Palm Sunday—makes this tragedy all the more painful. And today, as Passover begins, we’re seeing a number of synagogues and Jewish community centers take added security precautions.
"Nobody should have to worry about their security when gathering with their fellow believers," President Obama said. "No one should ever have to fear for their safety when they go to pray."
He added, "As a government, we’re going to provide whatever assistance is needed to support the investigation. As Americans, we not only need to open our hearts to the families of the victims, we’ve got to stand united against this kind of terrible violence, which has no place in our society. And we have to keep coming together across faiths to combat the ignorance and intolerance, including anti-Semitism that can lead to hatred and to violence because we’re all children of God. We’re all made in His image, all worthy of his love and dignity. And we see what happens around the world when this kind of religious-based or tinged violence can rear its ugly head. It’s got no place in our society."
He added that during this Easter Week, "we recognize that there’s a lot of pain and a lot of sin and a lot of tragedy in this world, but we’re also overwhelmed by the grace of an awesome God.
"We’re reminded how He loves us, so deeply, that He gave his only begotten Son so that we might live through Him. And in these Holy Days, we recall all that Jesus endured for us—the scorn of the crowds and the pain of the crucifixion, in our Christian religious tradition we celebrate the glory of the Resurrection—all so that we might be forgiven of our sins and granted everlasting life.... none of us are free from sin, but we look to His life and strive, knowing that 'if we love one another, God lives in us, and His love is perfected in us.'
"I felt this spirit," the president added, "when I had the great honor of meeting His Holiness, Pope Francis, recently. I think it’s fair to say that those of us of the Christian faith, regardless of our denomination, have been touched and moved by Pope Francis." The president said many have been so moved by the words of the pope—"his message of justice and inclusion, especially for the poor and the outcast. He implores us to see the inherent dignity in each human being.
"But it’s also his deeds," President Obama added, "simple yet profound—hugging the homeless man, and washing the feet of somebody who normally ordinary folks would just pass by on the street. He reminds us that all of us, no matter what our station, have an obligation to live righteously, and that we all have an obligation to live humbly. Because that’s, in fact, the example that we profess to follow.
"So I had a wonderful conversation with Pope Francis, mostly about the imperatives of addressing poverty and inequality. And I invited him to come to the United States, and I sincerely hope he will. When we exchanged gifts he gave me a copy of his inspiring writings, 'The Joy of the Gospel.' And there is a passage that speaks to us today: 'Christ’s resurrection,' he writes, 'is not an event of the past; it contains a vital power which has permeated this world.' And he adds, 'Jesus did not rise in vain. May we never remain on the sidelines of this march of living hope!'"
PHOTO: Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington is greeted by White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough at an Easter prayer breakfast in the East Room of the White House in Washington April 14. The breakfast, a tradition begun by U.S. President Barack Obama and held around Easter each year, brings together Christian religious leaders from across the country, both prominent and grass-roots workers.