Clinton Hears Pope Call for Right to Life "Protect the Human Person." Pontiff Says as He Arrives at Denver Airport
Compiled From News Services Kathryn Rogers, Post-Dispatch religion writer, contributed to this story., St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
Pope John Paul II began his third visit to the United States on Thursday by urging Americans to "guarantee the right to life." President Bill Clinton, an abortion-rights advocate, stood impassively behind the pope.
Without saying the word "abortion" as he spoke shortly after he arrived at Stapleton International Airport, John Paul made clear references to the Roman Catholic Church's strong stance against the practice.
The pope was in Denver for a four-day conference to instill a sense of spirituality in a generation of young Americans growing up amid violence, drugs and other problems.
As the airport crowd chanted "John Paul II, we love you," the pope said, "America, you are beautiful; you are the best in so many ways.
"But your best beauty, your richest blessing is from the human person. In each man, woman and child, in every immigrant, in every native-born son or daughter, the ultimate test of your greatness is the way you treat every human being, but especially the weakest and most defenseless ones."
He added that, of all its great causes, possibly America's greatest is "that you guarantee the right to life and protect the human person. If you want equal justice for all, and true freedom and lasting peace, then, America, defend life!"
Clinton, standing behind the pope and next to Raymond Flynn, the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, showed no reaction.
During his 20-minute airport address, John Paul quoted from a speech he delivered during his last U.S. visit, in 1987, saying again, "All the great causes that are yours today will have meaning only to the extent that you guarantee the right to life, and protect the human person."
But he dropped from the original quotation the words "from conception until natural death."
After the speech, Clinton was asked what he thought of the remarks. He gave a thumbs-up sign and said: "It was a great speech."
White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers said she thought the pope had "tried to make his point without being confrontational. That's what we expected. The president knows the pope's views on this. It doesn't come as any surprise."
The pontiff, 73, flew to Denver after stops in Jamaica and Mexico.
On the Denver airport tarmac, John Paul smiled and stooped slightly as he shook hands with Clinton, his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and their daughter, Chelsea, as well as with other dignitaries.
Before the pope spoke, Clinton praised him for lighting the spark that led to the demise of communism in Eastern Europe. Clinton, a Southern Baptist, quoted President John F. Kennedy, the nation's only Catholic chief executive: "Here on Earth, we must always remember God's work must be ours."
President Clinton also said Americans were grateful to the pope for his efforts to promote world peace and justice.
The president and the spiritual leader of the world's 950 millon Roman Catholics then flew by separate helicopters to Regis University, a Jesuit college, for a private hour-long meeting.
The two leaders discussed Bosnia, the Middle East and the former Soviet Union. Asked whether they had discussed abortion, Clinton replied "No" and shook his head. But the pope reiterated that the United States should respect "the right to life. …