By CINDY WOODEN, CNS | Published November 13, 2008
Pope Benedict XVI sent a personal message to President-elect Barack Obama Nov. 5, congratulating him and offering his prayers for Obama and for all the people of the United States.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said that because the message was addressed personally to Obama the Vatican did not plan to publish the full text.
However, he said, the papal message opened by referring to the “historic occasion” of the election, marking the first time a black man has been elected president of the United States.
The pope congratulated Obama, his wife and family, Father Lombardi said.
“He assured him of his prayers that God would help him with his high responsibilities for his country and for the international community,” Father Lombardi said.
The pope also prayed that “the blessing of God would sustain him and the American people so that with all people of good will they could build a world of peace, solidarity and justice,” the spokesman said.
Asked if the pope mentioned any specific issues he was concerned about, Father Lombardi responded, “peace, solidarity and justice.”
The message to Obama was sent through the office of Mary Ann Glendon, the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, he said. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, also sent a message.
Father Lombardi said it is likely a formal message also will be sent on the occasion of Obama’s Jan. 20 inauguration; in past years, the Vatican custom has been that the pope congratulates a new U.S. president only when he formally takes office.
Hours before he made the general content of the pope’s message public, Father Lombardi told reporters that Catholics “are praying that God will enlighten and assist” the new president.
“The task of the president of the United States is an immense and heavy responsibility, not only for his own country, but for the whole world given the weight that the United States has in every sphere on the world scene,” Father Lombardi said.
“We all hope the new President Obama will be able to respond to the expectations and hopes that have been placed in him, serving human rights and justice, finding the best ways to promote peace in the world and favoring the growth and dignity of persons with respect for essential human and spiritual values,” Father Lombardi said.
The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, was published Nov. 5 with an opinion piece headlined “A choice that unites.”
“In the end, change occurred. The slogan that accompanied Barack Obama’s whole electoral campaign found its expression” in the results of the Nov. 4 election, said the article by Giuseppe Fiorentino.
“As the president-elect underlined in his victory speech in Chicago, America really is the country where anything can happen,” a country “able to overcome fractures and divisions that not long ago seemed impossible to heal,” it said.
But, the article said, the vote for Obama was “very pragmatic” because he was the “more convincing” candidate for “an electorate needing new hope, especially for a quick economic recovery.”
The newspaper said Obama and his supporters know “not everything is roses and flowers,” because of the “huge political, social, economic and moral challenges” the United States is facing.
Obama must unite the nation, a process L’Osservatore said will be helped by the concession speech of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who referred to Obama as “my president.”
Vatican Radio called the election of Obama a “historic day” for the United States and underlined the overwhelmingly positive reaction around the world.
Contributing to this story was John Thavis.