Biden prays with cardinal for Ukrainians on Ash Wednesday

President Joe Biden speaks with reporters before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House
Associated Press/Alex Brandon

President Biden said he received ashes from Cardinal Wilton Gregory for Ash Wednesday and they prayed together for the people of Ukraine. 

“I was with the cardinal this morning. He came over and he gave me ashes. We both prayed for that, for the people of Ukraine,” Biden told reporters, with ashes noticeably on his forehead.

Pope Francis has encouraged people to fast and pray for Ukrainians on Ash Wednesday, and Biden said he agreed with the pope.

“I think he’s right,” Biden said.

A spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington said the visit to the White House was “brief” and “private.”

“It was a private moment, at which the President and the Cardinal prayed for the people of Ukraine. Cardinal Gregory also gave the President a cross-shaped mark of ashes on his forehead, a traditional Christian way to mark the beginning Lent,” the spokesperson said.

Later on Wednesday, Gregory welcomed the Archbishop-Metropolitan for the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia for mass at St. Matthew’s in Washington, D.C.

Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent for many Christians, including Roman Catholics. The president, a well-known ice cream lover, said he gave up sweets for Lent. 

“All sweets, and you know me, I start off with dessert. No ice cream, nothing,” Biden told reporters. 

The president received ashes at the White House before his trip to Superior, Wis., where he will deliver remarks on the bipartisan infrastructure law. Biden, just the second Catholic U.S. president in history, regularly goes to church and touts his faith as a deeply personal aspect of his life.

The president was questioned during his departure about his Catholicism and his pro-choice stance, a topic that has been debated among American bishops. 

“I tell you what, I don’t want to get into a debate with you about theology but – well, anyway. I’m not going to make a judgment on other people,” he said when asked why he “supports abortion as a Catholic.”

Cardinal Gregory of the Washington, D.C., diocese has publicly said Biden can received communion in his jurisdiction, despite conservative leaders of the church pushing back due to Biden’s stance on abortion.

In November, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) adopted a document on communion without mentioning whether Biden or other politicians should be denied the rite based on their stance on abortion, signaling an end to the debate on the issue.

Tags Ash Wednesday Catholic Church Joe Biden Pope Francis

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