By Justin Sink
President Obama heralded Pope Francis as the rare world leader who “makes us want to be better people” in a tribute penned for Time magazine’s annual 100 Most Influential feature.
The president said that he and others had been inspired not only by the pope’s call to address poverty but his actions to embrace those with less.
“His Holiness has moved us with his message of inclusion, especially for the poor, the marginalized and the outcast,” Obama said. “But it has been his deeds, his bearing, the gestures at once simple and profound — embracing the sick, ministering to the homeless, washing the feet of young prisoners — that have inspired us all.”
Obama, who has faced criticism at home over his ability to translate rhetoric into action, said Francis “reminds us in ways that words alone cannot that no matter our station in life, we are bound by moral obligations to one another.”
“His example challenges us to live out those obligations through work — to alleviate poverty, reduce inequality and promote peace; to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, care for the sick and open new doors of opportunity and visions of possibility for everyone,” Obama said.
Obama met with the new pope for the first time late last month during a trip to Europe, and has frequently cited Francis in arguing for his proposals to address income inequality. According to the president, the pair discussed the plight of the poor and marginalized, as well as efforts on issues like immigration reform.
“Those of us as politicians have the task of trying to come up with policies to address issues, but His Holiness has the capacity to open people’s eyes and make sure they’re seeing that this is an issue,” Obama said at the time. “And he’s discussed in the past I think the dangers of indifference or cynicism when it comes to our ability to reach out to those less fortunate or those locked out of opportunity.”
Following the meeting, the president downplayed differences with the Catholic leader on issues like abortion, the contraception mandate in ObamaCare, and the use of military force in pursuit of American foreign policy.
“I think His Holiness and the Vatican have been clear about their position on a range of issues, some of them I differ with; most I heartily agree with,” Obama said at the time. “And I don’t think that His Holiness envisions entering into a partnership or a coalition with any political figure on any issue. His job is a little more elevated. We’re down on the ground dealing with the often profane, and he is dealing with higher powers.”
Obama made no allusion to any of those disagreements in his short essay for Time.
It was not the first time the president has participated in the magazine’s feature series, which asks notable figures to write about why they believe other members of the list are deserving. Last year, the president wrote a profile of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) — a personal friend from their time in the Senate together.
In that piece, he joked that both men held out hope for convincing the other of their political worldview.
"But in the mean time, we'll settle for being friends," Obama said.