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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 24, 2001

Remarks by the President to St. Augustine Parish
Our Lady of Angeles-St. Joseph Center
Cleveland, Ohio

Listen to the President's Remarks

11:35 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Father McNulty, thank you very much, sir, for your hospitality and your introduction. It's a privilege for me to be here with Bishop Pilla, whose reputation at least has preceded him as far as the President goes. I've been looking forward to this opportunity to meet such a fine, noble man, firmly committed to helping the poor. So, Bishop, thank you so much for being here, sir.

I'm honored also to be -- to have been welcome by Sister Ambro. The Sister is pretty firm in her -- (laughter and applause) -- she kept us on time. (Laughter.) I am thankful to be here with distinguished public servants from the state of Ohio -- your Governor, Lt. Governor, both very good friends of mine -- thank you all for being here. Two fine United States senators, Mike DeWine and George Voinovich, traveled with me from Washington today. I think you're going back. (Laughter.) But Ohio is well represented in the halls of the United States Senate with these two fine Americans. And two members of the United States Congress, Steve LaTourette and Tony Hall from South Ohio are here, as well. Thank you all for traveling with us today.

Tony is not from this area, but I can assure you that if you got to know him, you would know that he shares the same passion most of us do for figuring out ways to help people in need.

The other thing that I want to make note of is that Tony is a Democrat. And what we're going to talk about today is not a party issue. The idea of helping people transcends political party. And so, Tony, thank you for coming.

I want to thank Pam Delly, the principal of Our Lady of Angels, for the tour and the opportunity to meet the students here. And I want to thank Dennis McNulty, the Director of Catholic Charity Services, as well.

I want to start off with a comment about some news. This morning, a distinguished United States Senator chose to leave the Republican Party and become an independent. I respect Senator Jeffords. But I respectfully -- but, respectfully, I couldn't disagree more. Our agenda for reforming America's public schools and providing tax relief for every taxpayer represents the hopes and dreams of Main Street America. Our agenda for reforming our military and modernizing our military to defend America and our allies represents the best hope for peace.

I was elected to get things done on behalf of the American people, and to work with both Republicans and Democrats, and we're doing just that. Just yesterday in the United States Senate, Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly agreed that we should provide tax relief for every single American who pays taxes.

The Senate has now passed tax relief, and so has the House. And I call on Congress not to recess for Memorial Day until they have finished the job and provided tax relief for the American people.

And we're making great progress on education, as well. Just yesterday in the House of Representatives, Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly agreed that we should insist upon local control of schools, strong accountability, and greater options for parents when their children are trapped in failing schools. The Senate now takes up the education bill, and I'm confident we'll enact a plan to improve all of America's public schools, so that no child is left behind. As well as I mentioned I'm working hard with both Republicans and Democrats, to put in place a faith-based initiative that I truly believe will change America for the better.

Last weekend I spoke at one of America's great Catholic universities. The Chairman of the Board I think is here somewhere. Here you are. Thank you very much, Pat, for letting me come. I was deeply honored. Today I'm pleased to visit one of America's great Catholic parishes. Notre Dame and St. Augustine may seem to be a world apart, but they're united by the same Catholic teaching, that God has a special concern for the poor. For some people, Jesus' admonition to care for the least of these is an admirable moral teaching. For the folks at this center, and centers like it all around America, it's a way of life.

I'm visiting here to offer praise. I want to praise the volunteers. I want to praise the good folks from corporate Cleveland who are helping. I want to praise those like the folks we met in the cafeteria, who get up at 6 a.m. in the morning, before their job, to come and help a neighbor in need. I also want to make a pledge, that my administration will be more supportive of the good works done here than any administration in the history of the country, because I understand the power of faith, that faith can change lives.

I also understand the limitations of government. Government can hand out money, and we will. We've increased budgets to work on social problems. But what government cannot do is put hope in people's hearts or a sense of purpose in people's lives.

I wish -- I wish I knew the law that says love a neighbor like you would like to be loved yourself. I'd sign it, that would mandate that to happen. But I think of all nations of the world, we understand that that law comes from a higher calling than government. And the great challenge for our nation is to rally what I call "the armies of compassion" all across America so that nobody is left behind.

In my speech at Notre Dame, I started by talking about a speech that a former President from Texas gave in 1964, and he declared a War on Poverty. I then talked about some of the unintended effects of the War on Poverty, one of which was people becoming dependent upon government. It's kind of a loss of responsibility in our society. Members of both political parties came together in 1996 to address that problem by putting time limits on welfare. The bill was signed by my predecessor, and it had a positive effect. But there are still people who hurt in America.

Poverty runs deep in this country, and we need to take the War on Poverty a step further, by recognizing the power and promise of faith-based and community-based groups, that exist not because of government, but because they've heard the universal call to love somebody in need.

And so we've laid out an initiative for the United States Congress to look at. It's one that says we're going to have a -- what's called a Compassion Capital Fund of $500 million, to help provide seed money for programs such as these we're witnessing here today. It says we ought to expand charitable choice, which means faith-based organizations should be allowed to receive federal grants when it comes to helping people in need.

There's some concern in our society about encouraging faith-based organizations to meet their challenges. But those are people that want to argue the process. They want to make everything legal. And my fundamental question to America, after having said this loud and clear, we'll never fund faith, we'll never fund churches, but we should fund the armies of compassion. We should not discriminate against faith-based programs which exist to help people in need.

We provide Medicare and Medicaid money, and that money is redeemed at charitable hospitals. We provide Pell Grants and government loans for people that redeem that -- those scholarship monies at religious universities. In order to make sure the promise of America is full and whole for every citizen, we should not discriminate against faith-based programs that simply exist and solely exist to help people who hurt and people in need. The neighborhood helpers and healers of America are truly the strength of this country.

In my speech at Notre Dame, I also talked about corporate America. And to this end, I'm going to have a convocation next fall calling together foundation America and corporate America, to figure out a strategy of how best to get more money into the coffers of the faith-based programs in neighborhoods all across America.

Interestingly enough, six of ten of the largest corporate givers in America explicitly rule out giving money to faith-based programs. My attitude is America and its government should not discriminate against faith-based programs, and neither should corporate America. And so one of my missions is to bring folks who care about our country together and tout and herald the great works that are being done in programs such as this and centers such as this.

I set up an office at the White House, run by a man named John Dilulio. He's a -- one of the forward thinkers in terms of how to encourage faith to help people in need. A really interesting guy. I haven't checked his party affiliation, but I suspect it's not the same as mine -- because he understands that this is not an initiative to try to gain political gain. Ours is an initiative to make America a better place.

Part of the mission of the office is to encourage programs to explain how people can access the federal grant money, explain what we can do with the Capital Compassion Fund. But part of it all, and a very important part, is to make sure that government never interferes with the good works that are being done in programs such as this. It's to make sure that church and synagogue and mosque don't lose the fundamental essence of their mission.

You know, there are many in our society who fear what interfacing with the federal government can mean. And my pledge to the faith-based community in America is my administration will do everything in our power to make sure that those who do interface with government never have to sacrifice their mission, their reason for being -- because, again, I understand the power of faith and the hope faith brings all across the country.

It is an incredible honor to be the President of a nation of faith. It's hard to describe what it's like to travel our country and have literally hundreds of people walk up and say, Mr. President, I pray for you every day. It is -- first of all, it's a very comforting feeling, needless to say. But it also increases my optimism and hope about America, because the truth of the matter is, in order for us to solve the deep poverty that exists, to solve the hurt in people's souls, we need people who are willing to put their arm around a brother in need and say, I love you. We need mentors for young children to provide hope and solace.

America's society will change one heart, one soul, one conscience at a time. And each of us must do our part to provide hope for that soul and that conscience.

I've been so incredibly impressed by the universally strong commitment of the Catholic Church and the leaders of the Catholic Church to make sure that nobody in our society is left behind. America is better off because of that commitment. Our nation is well-off because of the love and compassion of our citizens. And my hope, in working with folks such as yourself, is to gather that compassion so that the hope of the greatest nation of the world reaches every neighborhood in America.

Thank you for giving me the chance to come, and God bless. (Applause.)

11:48 A.M. EDT

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