When President-elect Joe Biden assumes office in January, he will become only the second Catholic president in U.S. history, following John F. Kennedy. On Saturday, after Mr. Biden was projected winner of the presidential race, Catholics around the world reacted to the historic moment.
During his victory speech Saturday night, Mr. Biden referenced his faith when he quoted the hymn “On Eagles’ Wings,” which he said meant a lot to his family, particularly his late son, Beau, who died of cancer in 2015. “It captures the faith that sustains me and which I believe sustains America,” Biden said, before reciting some of the lyrics.
James J. Martin SJ, an American Jesuit priest who serves as a consultant to the Vatican’s communications secretary, tweeted about the significance.
“The surprise ‘On Eagles’ Wings’ reference by @JoeBiden, which made my phone buzz like crazy, made me realize: this means four years of not only a Catholic president, but an injection of #Catholic culture into our national conversation in a way probably not seen since JFK,” Martin wrote.
The surprise “On Eagles’ Wings” reference by @JoeBiden, which made my phone buzz like crazy, made me realize: this means four years of not only a Catholic president, but an injection of #Catholic culture into our national conversation in a way probably not seen since JFK. pic.twitter.com/PkE9PnEMP1
Martin also shared a screenshot showing “On Eagles’ Wings” was trending on Twitter in the U.S.
Sr. Simone Campbell, an American Roman Catholic Religious Sister, lawyer and activist, also tweeted about Biden. “Congratulations to my friend, and our President-elect, Joseph R. Biden!” she wrote. “I look forward to working with you and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to create a more perfect union.”
“Glad that our nation has picked @JoeBiden and @KamalaHarris to lead us into a new chapter,” Campbell’s tweet continued.
Archbishop José H. Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also issued a statement on the election.
“I believe that at this moment in American history, Catholics have a special duty to be peacemakers, to promote fraternity and mutual trust, and to pray for a renewed spirit of true patriotism in our country,” Gomez said in the statement.
“Democracy requires that all of us conduct ourselves as people of virtue and self-discipline. It requires that we respect the free expression of opinions and that we treat one another with charity and civility, even as we might disagree deeply in our debates on matters of law and public policy,” he continued.
“As we do this, we recognize that Joseph R. Biden, Jr., has received enough votes to be elected the 46th President of the United States. We congratulate Mr. Biden and acknowledge that he joins the late President John F. Kennedy as the second United States president to profess the Catholic faith. We also congratulate Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California, who becomes the first woman ever elected as vice president.”
On Election Day, Mr. Biden, a devout Catholic, started out by attending Mass and visiting the graves of his son, Beau, and his first wife Neilia and infant daughter Naomi, who were both killed in a car crash in 1972.
On Sunday, Mr. Biden did the same, attending Mass with his daughter Ashley and grandson Hunter at St. Joseph on the Brandywine Catholic Church in Wilmington, Delaware, and then visiting his family members’ graves.
Mr. Biden’s Catholic faith caused few ripples on the campaign trail, in stark contrast to the attention that surrounded John F. Kennedy’s religion when he ran for president in 1960. At the time, many Protestants were suspicious about whether Kennedy might place loyalty to the Vatican over U.S. interests, and he gave a widely reported speech reassuring Americans, “I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation, or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.”
The Pew Research Center notes that while Catholicism “has long been the nation’s largest religious denomination,” only two other Catholics — Democrats Al Smith in 1928 and John Kerry in 2004 — have ever been major party presidential nominees.
Mr. Biden’s running mate, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris considers herself a Baptist but also grew up with exposure to her mother’s Hindu traditions, and her husband, Douglas Emhoff, is Jewish.
“From all of these traditions and teachings, I’ve learned that faith is not only something we express in church and prayerful reflection, but also in the way we live our lives, do our work and pursue our respective callings,” Harris said in an interview with the Religious News Service.
When Harris assumes office, she will make history as the first woman, Black and Asian American vice president, and Emhoff will be the first “second gentleman,” the unofficial title for spouse to the vice president.
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