White House Easter breakfast tempers somber events with Christian hope
Cathoilc News Service photo
U.S. President Barack Obama takes part in an Easter prayer breakfast in the East Room at the White House in Washington, 2011.
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON — An Easter prayer breakfast at the White House April 14 started on a somber note as President Barack Obama acknowledged the deaths the day before of three people who were killed by a gunman at two Jewish facilities in Overland Park, Kan.
The breakfast, a tradition begun by Obama and held around Easter each year, brings together Christian religious leaders from across the country, both prominent and grass-roots workers. Obama was to host a Seder at the White House the following night, the second night of Passover, continuing a tradition that began during his first run for the White House.
In his remarks, the president quoted Pope Francis, with whom Obama met at the Vatican March 27.
He said he felt the spirit of the hope of the Resurrection and of following Jesus when he met Pope Francis.
"Those of us of the Christian faith, regardless of our denomination, have been touched and moved by Pope Francis," Obama said.
"Some of it is his words -- 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," Obama said. "But it's also his deeds, 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."
Obama cited a passage of Pope Francis's apostolic exhortation "Evangelii Gaudium" ("The Joy of the Gospel"), published last November. The pope gave the president a copy.
"'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!'"
Participants at the breakfast included Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, bishops of several other denominations, as well as other ministers and faith-based activists. One table was filled with teens who are part of Esperanza Academy, a faith-based mentoring program in Philadelphia.
In talking about the previous day's shootings in Kansas, Obama said two of the victims attended the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan., whose senior pastor, the Rev. Adam Hamilton, was the homilist in 2012 at an inaugural prayer service at the National Cathedral. Rev. Hamilton attended the Easter breakfast at the White House last year, Obama said.
Dr. William Lewis Corporon and his 14-year-old grandson, Reat Griffin Underwood, were shot to death in their car when they went to attend auditions for a musical at a Jewish community center.
The third person who died was identified as Terri LaManno, 53, of Kansas City, who was making her weekly visit to her mother, a resident at a Jewish-run assisted living home near the community center. LaManno was a member of St. Peter's Catholic Church in Kansas City.
Police arrested Frazier Glenn Cross, also known as F. Glenn Miller, from Aurora, Mo., who was reported to have a long history of anti-Semitism and leadership in the Ku Klux Klan. The Justice Department is investigating the shootings as hate crimes.
"That this occurred now -- as Jews were preparing to celebrate Passover, as Christians were observing Palm Sunday," said Obama, "makes this tragedy all the more painful." He observed that as Passover began that day, synagogues and Jewish community centers were taking extra security precautions.
"Nobody should have to worry about their security when gathering with their fellow believers," he said. "No one should ever have to fear for their safety when they go to pray."
He said people of faith need to keep coming together "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. 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."
Obama tied those events to the observance of Easter, as a time to recognize that although the world has a lot of pain, sin and tragedy, "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."
He said that "in these holy days, we recall all that Jesus endured for us -- the scorn of the crowds and the pain of the crucifixion," and that Christians "celebrate the glory of the Resurrection -- all so that we might be forgiven our sins and granted everlasting life."
Obama concluded by thanking those attending the breakfast, for their ministries, their "good works, for the marching you do for justice and dignity and inclusion, for the ministries that all of you attend to and have helped organize throughout your communities each and every day to feed the hungry and house the homeless and educate children who so desperately need an education."