Pope Francis has prayed for an "abundance of blessings" to be upon the 46th president of the United States, Joe Biden, following his inauguration on Wednesday.
In an official statement sent minutes after Biden took the oath of office, Pope Francis prayed that God would guide Biden as he leads the nation and tackles the many challenges facing the United States at this time.
"I extend cordial good wishes and the assurance of my prayers that Almighty God will grant you wisdom and strength in the exercise of your high office," the Pope said. "Under your leadership, may the American people continue to draw strength from the lofty political, ethical and religious values that have inspired the nation since its founding."
He added: "At a time when the grave crises facing our human family call for farsighted and united responses, 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.
"I likewise ask God, the source of all wisdom and truth, to guide your efforts to foster understanding, reconciliation and peace within the United States and among the nations of the world in order to advance the universal common good."
Biden took his seat behind the Resolute Desk for the first time Wednesday evening in a redecorated Oval Office, starkly contrasted with that of his predecessor Donald Trump. Along with a navy rug from the Clinton presidency, new curtains, a fresh set of wall hangings and the removal of a Winston Churchill bust in exchange for civil rights leader Cesar Chavez, Biden's Oval Office also boasts a framed photo of the President greeting Pope Francis.
In a contrasting statement to that of the Pope's, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) raised the issue of abortion with Biden, insinuating that this was not in accordance with his professed Catholic faith. "I must point out that our new President has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity," wrote the Most Rev José H. Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles and President of the USCCB. "Most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender."
He added: "Rather than impose further expansions of abortion and contraception, as he has promised, I am hopeful that the new President and his administration will work with the Church and others of good will."
Archbishops Jose did note that 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".
"Mr. Biden’s piety and personal story, his moving witness to how his faith has brought him solace in times of darkness and tragedy, his longstanding commitment to the Gospel’s priority for the poor — all of this I find hopeful and inspiring," he added.
A source at the Vatican told America Magazine that the USCCB's statement was "most unfortunate" and expressed concern that it will create "even greater divisions within the church in the United States".