Public Papers

Remarks at the Catholic University of America Anniversary Dinner


Thank you very much. Please be seated. Your Eminences and reverend clergy, Chairman Bagley and Mrs. Connolly, ladies and gentlemen, Barbara and I are just delighted to be with you. And thank you, Father Byron, for introducing me and for inviting me to be with you tonight.

In particular, I am delighted to come to pay my respects to their Eminences and Excellencies from Egypt and Saudi Arabia who have traveled so far for this occasion.

Two years ago, as Father Byron said -- reminded me out here, I had the honor of addressing the kickoff dinner of the 100th anniversary of the Catholic University of America. And here we are back again. Even though I know this isn't what you have in mind when you preach about the Second Coming -- [laughter] -- I am delighted to help conclude the centennial celebration and to salute these great men who embody this university -- five cardinals who are diocesan bishops, and then the friend of everybody here, the former archbishop of Philadelphia, Cardinal Krol.

You know, this is quite a gathering, more than a thousand voices cascading around the Pension Building. For those of you in the back of the room, I'll try to speak up. Cardinal Hickey warned me that the agnostics in this room are very bad. [Laughter]

And speaking of His Eminence, this is some gathering -- six cardinals, each near the top of his field. Notice I said near, not at, after all -- no, I'm reminded of the football player's response when he was traded from Phoenix to New Orleans. Religiously speaking, he said, is an advancement from a Cardinal to a Saint. [Laughter]

But in the spirit of the evening, I do want to make a confession. [Laughter] The real reason I'm here is to see if anybody has a couple of Orange Bowl tickets that they are not using. [Laughter] Let's hear it for Notre Dame down there! [Applause]

And let me also confess that, as I was looking forward to tonight, I got to thinking and wondering, thinking about how Pope John XXIII said, ``Religion makes mankind special'' -- and wondering what is it about Catholic University and these six men of God which makes them, in their special way, so extraordinary. The first reason, I think, is fundamental faith, belief in the Almighty. For you accept the eternal teachings of the Sermon on the Mount. You believe that political values without moral values cannot sustain a people. And you know that there is no state religion, nor should there ever be, but spiritual principles were rooted in our nation's origins, and always must be.

Next, service to others -- and this, too, has helped the Church uphold Christ's special mission to mankind. Think of the Catholic charities who illumine what I love to call a Thousand Points of Light, and of individuals, heroes really -- like your honoree, Helen Marino Connolly, this year's recipient of Catholic University's American Cardinals Encouragement Award -- reflecting, as Catholics do from Villanova to the Vatican, the belief that we were placed on Earth to do God's work.

And the third special quality of the Catholic community -- its devotion to higher learning. Two hundred years ago America's Catholic Church hierarchy was born. And in 1887, it founded a national Catholic University to teach all branches of science and literature. Historically, education has been the great equalizer, buoying the Catholic experience. And today, more than ever, as these cardinals show, it remains the great uplifter.

And finally, thinking of tonight, I thought of Catholics' fidelity to freedom. For it is freedom which brought Catholics in the 18th and 19th century to Boston and Baltimore and Chicago and New Orleans, and it is freedom which sustains you today in 1989. Catholics, for instance, believe in the most basic freedom, the right to life. And you believe, as I do, that we need to pursue public policies that preserve the sanctity of life.

And Catholics also want the freedom which allows parents, not the government, to choose the best child care for their children, be it with a grandparent, a neighbor, or yes, a local church. And so, we've sent legislation to Congress to make good on this pledge. I am determined to protect the right of every parent to send their children to the care center of their choice, and that includes, and must include, church-sponsored centers.

And yes, Catholics, too, want the freedom which allows their children to say a voluntary school prayer. And I share that belief, and I will continue to support a constitutional amendment restoring voluntary prayer. We need the faith of our fathers back in our schools.

And finally, last week I met with Chairman Gorbachev, as you all know, off of the coast of Malta where we talked of another freedom, the freedom to dismantle barriers between nations, and how principles based on conscience can move mountains or, as in East Berlin, even move a wall. And I know that many here tonight probably still have relatives in Prague or Budapest or Warsaw and Berlin. And I know that you want them to have the same freedoms with which God has blessed America, and the right to think and dream and worship as we please, and the right of free expression, the right to equal protection under the law, the right to choose our leaders and our destinies. And time and again, the church has reaffirmed such freedoms -- in Eastern Europe, for example, where democracy is on the march, or the Philippines, where freedom-loving people struggle valiantly to preserve a hard-won democracy.

In this season, this wonderful season of peace on Earth, let us renew our commitment to the principle of liberty in other parts of the world -- in El Salvador, where we condemn terrorism and murder, whatever the ideology, and we will do everything we can to bring to justice those who murdered those six Jesuit priests. And in Nicaragua, too, we cannot rest until liberty's victory is won. We want this to be the first hemisphere made up entirely of free democratic countries. And so, we have and will oppose the export of revolution, and have and will be resolute for freedom.

I told Mr. Gorbachev of a phone call that I received from President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica -- Oscar Arias, Nobel Prize winner -- asking me to raise with Mr. Gorbachev the concern of the Central American democracies and the South American democracies about Cuba's export of revolution. And I did this, and I hope it made an impression on Mr. Gorbachev. In this country, we speak different languages, attend different places of worship, but human dignity somehow eclipsed this nation, as does ``love thy neighbor.'' For the Golden Rule remains the most ennobling rule for our future and the world.

So, let me close then by returning to last week's summit, for I met there with a man who will help inevitably shape that world. Our meeting revolved around the need for lasting peace. And as we spoke, I thought of how God does move in mysterious ways and of Chairman Gorbachev's meeting the day before with one of the great men of this or any age, His Holiness Pope John Paul II. And who could have imagined, even weeks ago, that this long-awaited meeting would occur or that we would hear these words from a Soviet leader: ``Not only should no one interfere in matters of the individuals' conscience, we also say that the moral values that religion embodied for centuries can help in the work of renewal of our country, too'' -- Mr. Gorbachev talking about this historic visit. And then he added: ``In fact, this renewal is already happening.''

What a wonderful message for this Christmas season -- a message of the renewal which springs from faith, hope, generosity, and freedom. What a wonderful legacy to leave our children -- the knowledge that God can live without man, but man cannot live without God. For my own part, I know that this is true. For although I've been President now for even less than a year, I believe with all my heart that one cannot be America's President without a belief in God -- and, I should add, without a belief in prayer. And every day I am blessed by a wonderful family that gives me strength. And strength, too, comes, as a great President observed, from time on one's knees. For although not yet tested, as Abraham Lincoln was when he talked about that, I know that faith can make all things possible for a nation and a people.

Through faith and, yes, family, we can help America serve all mankind. For today, the time's on the side of peace, because the world increasingly is on the side of God. And for that, I thank this college and these cardinals as our nation does, as our children will.

So, Barbara and I came over to say happy birthday to Catholic University, Merry Christmas to each one of you, and God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. Thank you all very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 8:36 p.m. at the Pension Building. In his remarks, he referred to Smith Bagley, dinner chairman and member of the university's board of regents; Helen Marino Connolly, president and executive director of Good Samaritan Hospice of Brighton, MA; Father William Byron, president of the university; James Cardinal Hickey, archbishop of Washington, DC; Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, archbishop of Chicago; John Cardinal O'Connor, archbishop of New York; Bernard Cardinal Law, archbishop of Boston; Edmund Cardinal Szoka, archbishop of Detroit; and John Cardinal Krol, retired archbishop of Philadelphia.