Busted Halo

Mike Hayes and guest authors give insight into the surprises of Pope Francis’ papacy, shedding light on how and why this pope is doing things a bit differently.

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March 27th, 2014

Of Popes and Presidents

President Obama’s trip to the Vatican is a coming home of sorts


President Obama shakes hands with Pope Francis at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Stefano Spaziani, pool)

President Obama shakes hands with Pope Francis at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Stefano Spaziani, pool)

As President Obama and Pope Francis lock eyes for the first time, I imagine that the pope’s pastoral presence has brought back many memories for our country’s Commander in Chief.

What most people don’t know is that while the president is not a Catholic in terms of religious denomination, he was certainly steeped in the tenets of Catholic Social Teaching in his early days as a community organizer in Chicago. Those days shaped most of his political social thought as well as his religious outlook. Take this quote from President Obama’s commencement address to graduates at Notre Dame in 2009:

And something else happened during the time I spent in those neighborhoods. Perhaps because the church folks I worked with were so welcoming and understanding; perhaps because they invited me to their services and sang with me from their hymnals; perhaps because I witnessed all of the good works their faith inspired them to perform, I found myself drawn — not just to work with the church, but to be in the church. It was through this service that I was brought to Christ.

This all goes back to 1987, the springtime of Barack Obama’s life. While working as a community organizer he was a well-known whirlwind of enthusiasm amidst the Black Catholic churches of Chicago. He made less than $10,000 a year, but he worked tirelessly with the Developing Communities Project, a faith-based program that organized the people living in the South Side to take back their neighborhoods from unsafe streets, poor living conditions, and political neglect.

Obama fit in well with those professing Cardinal Bernardin’s “seamless garment” teaching, which preached a consistent ethic of life. Essentially, this is Catholic teaching at it’s finest and reminds those that fight against abortion that they too, need to be concerned about the elderly, the poor, the care of newborns, and mothers who courageously bring their children to term and to be people of peace in avoiding war.

Cardinal Bernardin, the then-Archbishop of Chicago, inspired the future president who went on to lobby the Cardinal to buy into the Developing Communities Project by reminding him that this would help him fill the churches with community activists. Obama worked with Bishop Wilton Gregory, now the Archbishop of Atlanta (and rumored to be the next Archbishop of Chicago), who went to bat for the community development program with Cardinal Bernardin. Archbishop Gregory recalled Obama as someone “who wanted to engage the people of the neighborhood.” Archbishop Gregory found Obama’s work persuasive and he recommended that Cardinal Bernardin provide some funds for the program.

Obama’s time working with Catholic churches in Chicago and even at an office inside a Catholic church was chronicled in The New York Times over the weekend.

President Obama and Pope Francis disagree on some things surrounding the issues of life. And the president has preached more on helping the middle class than the poorest in our society (because that is how, after all, one gets elected). However, the two men uphold the ideals of a similar social justice mindset.

For example, of President Obama or Pope Francis, who said this:

We too often seek advantage over others. We cling to outworn prejudice and fear those who are unfamiliar. Too many of us view life only through the lens of immediate self-interest and crass materialism; in which the world is necessarily a zero-sum game. The strong too often dominate the weak, and too many of those with wealth and with power find all manner of justification for their own privilege in the face of poverty and injustice. And so, for all our technology and scientific advances, we see around the globe violence and want and strife that would seem sadly familiar to those in ancient times.

President Obama spoke those words at Notre Dame during his commencement address. Pope Francis will certainly find those words comforting.

Today, during the president’s visit, Pope Francis gave President Obama a copy of his encyclical Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel). The president may be surprised and inspired by what he reads.

Perhaps Obama’s early days of community organizing in Chicago will be enough to stir a president and a pope to keep close ties with one another, to work together, and to remember that despite disagreement, we are all called to work for peace, justice, and love for all humankind.

The Author : Mike Hayes
Mike Hayes is the senior editor for the Googling God section at BustedHalo.com.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Leslie640

    I do think President Obama is the most “anti-Catholic president” we have ever had. Ask the Little Sisters of the Poor just how they feel about President Obama. Obama’s administration is in litigation against the Little Sisters, trying to force them to sign a document stating essentially that they consent to giving out birth control medication and morning after abortion medication. If the Little Sisters do not sign this document, the Obama administration is planning to SUE this religious order for hundreds of thousands of dollars. President Obama’s administration is a direct and very dangerous affront to religious liberty in this country, a horrendous big government intrusion into the lives of private citizens, trying to FORCE people through litigation to do something that is completely against their personal religious convictions.
    And if you don’t think President Obama is anti-Catholic, just take a good look at his voting record on abortion. He is the most pro-abortion American President who ever lived. He is completely in favor of a “woman’s right to choose” and that includes a woman’s right to choose LATE TERM abortions. Do you have any idea of the complete and total barbarity of late term abortions, where a nail is often stuck into a fully formed baby’s skull to murder it? President Obama has NEVER spoken out against this. He believes women have every right to choose the barbarity of late term abortions. As Catholics, we value life, and we especially value the life of the unborn. As Catholics, we have an obligation to protect the most weak and vulnerable in our society, and that certainly includes the unborn baby in the womb.

  • annieturner45@gmail.com

    Bob, I don’t think we can actually say President Obama is the most “anti-Catholic president” we have ever had. He has his differences with the Bishops, of course, and the Bishops are trying to paint the ACA as religious persecution, which I personally think is not so. (See Phil Fox Rose’s blog on Patheos re. this.) He is a man who sees the needs of the poor and disadvantaged, and this puts him squarely in the footsteps of the Gospel. And of our marvelous pope Francis.

  • Bob Blake

    Don’t see how we can take seriously what this President says. He says whatever the listening group wants to hear. If he’s not to most anti Catholic President we’ve ever had I don’t know who else it could be. I hope the Pope gave him a piece of his mind when they talked in private.

    • refichter

      He’s hardly anti-Catholic. MUCH of his work in Chicago was with Catholic groups, and they found his work admirable! Lucky for him, the pope is a good and fair man who will recognize that President Obama is, like the pope himself, both good AND flawed like ALL human beings!

      • avnrulz

        Pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, not exactly pro-Catholic.

      • refichter

        That narrow range of issues doesn’t make him or any one else anti-Catholic. You can disagree on many issues with any denomination without being against them to the point of being “the most anti-Catholic president we’ve ever had.” Even the pope is gracious enough to recognize that a GOOD Catholic says “Who am I to judge?”

      • avnrulz

        Don’t use someone else’s quote to put words in my mouth. His principles and politics run counter to Catholicism, and he will never have my support.

  • avnrulz

    So great to see the Pope sit him down at the desk. Too bad he won’t learn anything.

    • refichter

      Why won’t President Obama “learn anything?” He is a good and intelligent man, like Pope Francis. I’m sure the pope will be open to learning something, too.

      • avnrulz

        Obama has gotten where he is by maligning his opponents (look up his first electoral run), lying to the American people, and, as President, instead of ‘upholding and defending the Constitution’, he has abrogated his responsibilities, deciding there were laws he wasn’t going to uphold, decisions he was going to make unilaterally, and consciously weaken our country. Wake up and smell the coffee.

      • refichter

        Making him like ALL OTHER presidents who ever led this nation. I’m sure our wonderful new pope will recognize in our president a man who, like the pope himself, is both good and flawed. Just like me, and maybe even you.

      • Bob Blake

        We’re all flawed but this President’s flaws, lying being one, have really hurt our country. He was not qualified to be President as a Community Organizer and his mistakes in Obama Care and Syria and with Russia etc etc, have really set us back. The elections to elect him were flawed with the electorate wanting to elect a candidate for flawed reasons: he was first black American to be POTUS.

      • refichter

        I could reasonably argue that your post is flawed. Does he REALLY lie more than say, Reagan, Nixon, Bush, etc.? He WAS certainly MORE than just a community organizer, which is, after all, nothing at all except something to sneer at, according to right-wing thinking. He had at least as much experience as JFK, for instance. The ACA is only flawed because it was all he could get in this backward country, instead of single-payer like advanced countries have. Syria and Russia? Hmmm. What SHOULD he have done…be doing, oh wise one? Did we REALLY all vote for him just because he’s black? And you deduced that how? We voted for all the others just because they were white, I suppose. On balance, he has certainly NOT “hurt” this country as much as Reagan and Bush and the GOP/Tea Party obstructionists have, if we rely only on the facts to date.

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