Religious leaders welcome new US leader

By staff writers
January 21, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI is among the wide range of religious leaders sending messages of welcome and blessing to Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States following his inauguration yesterday.

In his message the pontiff said: "With his leadership may the American people continue to find in its great religious and political heritage the spiritual values and ethical principles necessary to contribute to the construction of a truly just and free society, marked by respect for dignity, equality and the rights of each of its members, especially the poor, the weak and those who have no voice."

Benedict continued: "In a time when so many of his brothers and sisters in the world desire to free themselves from the yoke of poverty and violence I pray such that you maintain the determination to promote understanding, cooperation and peace among nations, such that everyone might participate at the banquet of life that God wishes to host for the entire human family".

The United Church of Christ (UCC), which Obama was a member of for 20 years, sent its own greetings and quoted a sppech he made to their general assembly in 2007.

Other American church leaders will take part in a service of thanksgiving at Washington national Cathedral today. Participants include the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal (Anglican) Church, the Rt Rev Dr Katherine Jefferts-Schori. Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) General Minister and President, the Rev Sharon E. Watkins will deliver the sermon.

The Dalai Lama has also sent a message of congratulation, as have several prominent Jewish leaders and North American Muslims.

President Obama told the world's Muslims during his inaugural speech that his administration would be looking for a "new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect."

He also pledged broader global engagement. Saying the people of the world should know that America is a friend of all who seek "a future of peace and dignity," Obama vowed that the US is "ready to lead once more" - a strongly implied criticism of the Bush administration.

The new president pledged to "work alongside" the people of economically poor nations to make "farms flourish and let clean waters flow."

A wide array of religious figures also listened to Obama's speech in which he proclaimed that "We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus", before stressing "and nonbelievers."

Among the faith leaders present were Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America.

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