ROME— To mark Donald Trump’s inauguration today, honoring a tradition from his predecessors, Pope Francis sent a telegram congratulating the 45th president of the United States and urging him to be guided by concern for the poor.
“At a time when our human family is beset by grave humanitarian crises demanding farsighted and united political responses, I pray that your decisions will be guided by the rich spiritual and ethical values that have shaped the history of the American people and your nation’s commitment to the advancement of human dignity and freedom worldwide,” Francis said in the telegram.
The message began with assurances of prayers to “Almighty God.”
The 159-word telegram also called for America’s stature, under Trump’s leadership, to continue to “be measured above all by its concern for the poor, the outcast and those in need who, like Lazarus, stand before our door.”
The message closed with Francis asking God to grant the new president, his family and all America “his blessing of peace, concord and every material and spiritual prosperity.”
The papal gesture of sending a telegram for a presidential inauguration is uncommon, but hardly unprecedented. It’s not part of the usual diplomatic practice but some countries have come to expect it, as is the case with Italy or the United Sates.
In 2015 Francis got into trouble in his home country for not sending a telegram congratulating newly elected President Mauricio Macri. The Vatican’s argument was precisely that it’s not part of the protocol, yet those who believe there’s an ongoing spat between the two Argentine leaders saw it as further confirmation.
When it comes to the United States, Francis is at least the third pope to send a telegram to an incoming U.S. president.
In 2009 then Pope Benedict XVI sent a similar congratulatory note to Barack Obama, marking his inauguration as 44th president of the United States.
Though at 195 words it was some 30 words longer than the one John Paul II had sent to incoming president George W. Bush back in 2001. The two are almost carbon-copies, with the popes assuring the presidents of their prayers to “Almighty God.”
Both telegrams spoke of the American people’s “impressive” or “rich” religious and political heritage, of respecting the dignity and rights of each individual, “especially the poor, the defenseless and those who have no voice.”
Benedict, however, spoke of the “outcast” instead of the defenseless.
Much like Francis did on Friday, both previous popes had also urged the incoming U.S. presidents to foster “understanding, cooperation and peace among the peoples of the world.”