WINDSOR TERRACE — Just before noon Wednesday Joe Biden put his left hand on his family’s 19th century Bible and was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States, and the first Catholic president since John F. Kennedy in 1960.
Shortly thereafter, he gave an inaugural address focused on the need for unity to get through the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges the country faces.
“To overcome these challenges, to restore the soul and secure the future of America requires so much more than words, it requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy, unity,” Biden said. “Today, on this January day, my whole soul is in this. Bringing America together. Uniting our people, uniting our nation, and I ask every American to join me in this cause.”
Pope Francis congratulated Biden and extended “cordial good wishes” and assured prayers that “Almighty God will grant you wisdom and strength” in a statement after the ceremony.
“I pray that your decisions will be guided by a concern for building a society marked by authentic justice and freedom, together with unfailing respect for the rights and dignity of every person, especially the poor, the vulnerable and those who have no voice,” Pope Francis said.
Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (US- CCB), also said that his prayers are with the new president and his family. Gomez has been critical of Biden’s positions on “abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender.”
“The continued injustice of abortion remains the ‘preeminent priority,’ ” Archbishop Gomez said in a statement on January 20. “Preeminent does not mean ‘only.’ We have deep concerns about many threats to human life and dignity in our society. But as Pope Francis teaches, we cannot stay silent when nearly a million unborn lives are being cast aside in our country year after year through abortion.”
“I am hopeful that the new President and his administration will work with the Church and others of good will. My hope is that we can begin a dialogue to address the complicated and economic factors that are driving abortion and discouraging families.”
Archbishop Gomez also identified contraception, marriage, gender and religious freedom as areas Biden’s agenda would “advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity.”
Biden started inauguration day with a private Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew of the Apostle in Washington D.C., celebrated by Santa Clara University President Father Kevin O’Brien, a Jesuit priest family friend.
He was accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris — who became the first woman to hold the position. She is also the first African American and South Asian to become
vice president. Other congressional leaders also attended the Mass, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Notable people at the inauguration ceremony were outgoing Vice President Mike Pence, along with former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Outgoing President Donald Trump was not present. As a safety precaution, civilians were not allowed on the National Mall. Instead, it was filled with nearly 200,000 American flags representing those that could not attend.
The area was heavily guarded by both police and the military after the Capitol building riots earlier this month. There were no reports of violence or founded threats as of Wednesday afternoon.
Despite Biden’s disagreement over some of his policy priorities and beliefs, Archbishop Gomez noted that he looks forward to working with Biden, as a fellow Catholic.
“In a time of growing and aggressive secularism in American culture, when religious believers face many challenges, it will be refreshing to engage with a President who clearly understands, in a deep and personal way, the importance of religious faith and institutions,” Archbishop Gomez said.
The USCCB president also said Biden’s call for unity is “urgently needed” as the country continues to fight through the COVID-19 pandemic.