“One Who Has Hope Lives Differently.” That quote from Pope Benedict XVI was featured in ads from the Archdiocese of Washington that appeared on capital-area public transportation in the run-up to (and now wake of) the April papal visit to the United States.
And if you’ve listened to any of President Bush recently, you’ve seen a politician who appears to be living differently than your stereotypical poll-driven one. Pope Benedict XVI came to America last week with the theme “Christ Our Hope.” Our Methodist president is singing a similar hymn.
There’s a spring in the presidential step lately. Maybe it’s the freedom that comes with being in your final stretch. But, if you’ve listened to the last week or so of President Bush — speaking at the papal welcome ceremony last week, at a dinner in the pope’s honor, at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, and Thursday at a schools summit, it seems like something more. The rumor in Catholic circles last week was he’s destined to pull a Tony Blair — become a Catholic after his White House years. One oped columnist already went so far as to wonder if he was a secret Catholic. I don’t know about conversion — even if he has been cited praising “joyful Catholic nuns” and calling the Church a “rock in a raging sea” — but I do know he sounds like a man with a higher calling than making history books with a legacy plan.
At the Prayer Breakfast last Friday morning, the president cited the Word to plug his support for faith-based organizations:
I don’t know if you really realize this, but in 2006, 3,000 direct federal grants totaling more than $2 billion were made to faith-based organizations — including many Catholic organizations. And the reason why is because Catholic organizations provide shelter to the homeless in very effective and loving ways. They tutor at-risk youth. They help children of prisoners, while at the same time they work tirelessly to help prisoners get back on their feet. These groups seek out our society’s most vulnerable and fulfill Christ’s promise that “the last shall be first.
He would go on to say “with the trust in the Lord’s wisdom and goodness, I offer prayers of my own: for each gathered in the room, for the safety and success of the Holy Father’s visit, and for God’s continued blessings on our great land.”
“Hope” was the word of the day at a White House Summit on Inner-City Children and Faith-Based Schools in Washington on Thursday. With Catholic schools no small part of the faith-based-school picture, the president naturally plugged a few successful current success stories, including Cristo Rey Jesuit schools, Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education teacher-training service program, and a remarkable turnaround in Memphis Catholic schools, based on many prayers, a mandate to get to otherwise “abandoned” children, and some serious donor investments (to the tune of $10 million). But first President Bush started out there talking about the papal visit again: “It was an extraordinary moment for all who were directly involved, and I think extraordinary moment for all of America.” And, ultimately, after talking about the treasures that are faith-based schools, he wound up back at Benedict:
[L]et me close with what happened at National Stadium with His Holy Father. When he celebrated mass there, one of the objects he blessed at the end of the mass was the new cornerstone of the Pope John Paul the Great High School in Arlington, Virginia. Isn’t that interesting? I’m sure there was a lot of demands on His Holy Father, but he took time to bless the cornerstone of a school.
And my hope is, is that we’re laying cornerstones for new schools here or revived schools; that we take the spirit of the Holy Father and extend it throughout the country, and work for excellence for every child; to set high standards, and when we find centers of excellence, not [let] them go away, but to think of policy that will enable them to not only exist, not only survive, but to thrive. It’s in our nation’s interest. It’s an important summit for America.
Now, you can certainly criticize George W. Bush for being a little too hopeful, or perhaps working off a bad political translation: Believing freedom is written on every man’s heart and thus we can somehow bring sharia-free democracy to the Muslim world. You can believe that along the way he’s been patronizingly insulting when talking about those who want to enforce our nation’s immigration law. But if you’ve listened to him in the last week, you’ve heard a man who simply believes in the promise of America, a promise that would not be possible without a higher calling than politics. He believes we’re a City on the Hill, the last best hope, and that morning in America is right around the corner thanks to the work and sacrifices of many patriotic Americans.