As with anything that happens during the presidential inauguration, the selection of clergymen to pray at the ceremony is not just a formality – it is a statement from the new president telegraphing the values of his administration to the country.
And for Joe Biden – a lifelong Catholic who frequently cited his trust in his recent speeches and has quoted everyone from St. Francis of Assisi to the hymn “On Eagle Wings” – the two men offering prayers have a personal meaning. Father Leo J. O’Donovan, a Jesuit priest and spiritual mentor to Biden, will offer the invocation at the beginning of the service on January 20th, and Rev. Silvester Beaman, a friend and confidante, will give the blessing at the end.
With Beaman and O’Donovan’s participation in Biden’s inauguration, they are among a long line of ministers who have prayed at dedication services, dating back to the second inauguration of Bishop Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1937. Trump’s inauguration in 2017 included six religious leaders. a record including Franklin Graham (who attended the inauguration of George W. Bush in 2001), Paula White, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York City.
Biden is only the second Catholic to become US President after the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960. In recent years He was also criticized by other Catholics for his attitude towards abortion rights. In 2019, he announced that he was no longer supporting Hyde’s amendment, which bans federal funding for abortions, a more progressive stance than before (although this was in line with the proposal made by his Democratic presidential candidates for 2020).
Some Catholic clergymen have suggested that he should be excluded from attending Holy Communion – the central feature of Catholic Mass – and some have already rejected him outright. However, Biden claims he is a devout Catholic (he received congratulations from Pope Francis after his election), and his appeal to his faith during his campaign suggests that his Catholicism will be an important part not only of his dedication ceremony but also of his presidency.
Leo O’Donovan’s invocation signals Biden’s connection to his Catholic roots
Biden and O’Donovan’s careers have overlapped for decades. A native New Yorker, O’Donovan was President of Georgetown University from 1989 to 2001. This time was marked by the development of the university into a highly selective, more diverse and financially more stable institution. But there was also controversy; Most notably, he was ordered by a Vatican court in 1992 to disappoint an organization campaigning for abortion rights on campus.
While Biden’s son Hunter was a student in Georgetown in 1992, O’Donovan invited the then Sen. Biden gives a lecture on how his beliefs have influenced his public service. “I’ve never spoken publicly about my beliefs,” Biden told Esquire in 2011. “Anyway, I’ve never worked so hard on a speech in my whole life. As I wrote, I realized that the greatest sin a man or woman can commit is abuse of power. “
Ms. Leo O’Donovan speaks at an event in New York City in 2019. Kevin Mazur / Getty Images for Georgetown University
Since leaving the Georgetown presidency, O’Donovan has returned to teaching as visiting professor at institutions such as Fordham University, General Theological Seminary, and Union Theological Seminary. At the request of former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, whose son was visiting Georgetown, O’Donovan was a member of the board of directors of the Walt Disney Company.
In 2015, Biden’s son, Beau, the former Delaware attorney general, died at the age of 46 after a recurrence of brain cancer. Biden asked O’Donovan to preach at Beau’s funeral. “Joe, I’m so sorry,” O’Donovan said to Biden and then began to cry.
“He began to comfort me,” O’Donovan later told the National Catholic Register. “He became the pastor there.”
In 2016, O’Donovan became Mission Director at the Jesuit Refugee Service USA and has since sharply criticized President Trump’s immigration policies. On November 12, 2020, days after his election, Biden participated in a virtual fundraiser for the Jesuit Refugee Service, announcing that he would increase the target for refugees admitted to the US from 15,000 per year to 125,000 per year. Biden also wrote the foreword to O’Donovan’s 2018 book, Blessed Are the Refugees: Beatitudes by Migrant Children.
On Inauguration Day, O’Donovan’s prayer will not only mark a long friendship and connection to one of the most tragic events in Biden’s life. It will be a statement of the new president’s continued association with his Catholic roots. Biden has often spoken of his faith as “comfort” at a time of tragedy and suffering during the loss of his own family members. And that seems especially important for a president who takes office at a time that for many Americans is marked by suffering and grief.
Rev. New Year’s Eve Beaman’s blessing is a reminder that much remains to be done
O’Donovan’s invocation – traditionally a prayer asking for help – – I will likely ask God’s blessings on the ceremony and Biden before the new president vows to uphold the constitution. After the ceremony, Rev. Silvester Beaman will offer a blessing prayer or blessing to those gathered.
Beaman was born in Niagara Falls, New York and is a graduate of Wilberforce University, the first private, historically black university owned and operated by African Americans. Wilberforce is affiliated with the African Methodist episcopal denomination, as is Beaman’s Bethel AME, a predominantly black church in Wilmington, Delaware. (Biden’s primary residence is in Greenville, a suburb of Wilmington.)
Biden and Beaman met in 1993 after Beaman acquired Bethel. Biden attended a community event held by Beaman and introduced himself to the new pastor, and the two men became friends. Beaman traveled with Biden occasionally during his previous presidential campaigns and became a friend of the entire Biden family, particularly Beau.
Beaman told NBC News that while Beau Biden was the Attorney General of Delaware, he has found a partner in his work. “Beau and I became kindred spirits,” Beaman said. “We became good friends in the trenches dealing with social issues in Wilmington and the state.” He also attended Beau’s 2015 memorial service.
Biden prays in Bethel AME on June 1st, 2020. Jim Watson / AFP via Getty Images
On June 1, 2020, amid national unrest and protests against racism and police violence following the death of George Floyd, who cut his public appearances sharply due to the coronavirus pandemic, Biden met with 15 black community leaders for a meeting at the sanctuary in Bethel . He vowed to deal with institutional racism and to establish a police oversight agency during his first 100 days in office if elected. “The vice president came to hear from us,” Beaman said before the group prayed. “That’s a homeboy.”
The June 1 meeting at Beaman’s church became the fodder for three misleading and racist Trump campaign ads using footage of Biden kneeling in front of Beaman and other black leaders in the church shrine. In an advertisement published in June, images of violent protests were superimposed on the video, blurring the church context and one narrator saying, “Antifa is destroying our communities. Revolt. Plunder. But Joe Biden kneels down. ”
In August, the footage was digitally altered to create the impression that Biden was alone in an ad intended to imply that the former Vice President was crouched in fear and defeated after all but abandoning the campaign.
In September the footage reappeared, this time in slow motion and with the black guides visible. The words “Stop Joe Biden and his rioters” followed the footage, and audio from Vice President Mike Pence said, “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.” Beaman told the Religion News Service that the ad was “openly racist,” an “attack on the African American Church.” Beaman, along with other AME leaders, signed a letter denouncing the complaint and called on federal law enforcement agencies to investigate it, as it “could spark violence and promote racial tension that puts people of color at risk devices”.
On Wednesday, the blessing from Beaman – a friend and confidante for nearly 30 years – will signal a pledge to be linked to the concerns of the black communities, which will be of great importance if Biden takes on the role of president at this moment.
And Beaman is aware of the stakes: “I’m going to be standing in front of a building that slaves have built and I’m going to stand on a dais that a mob has desecrated,” he told NBC News. “The last word on that day will be the voice of God. I ask God to use me to channel his last grace on this opportunity and speak to the moment. And it’s an honor to do so. “
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