(TibetanReview.net, Feb07, 2015) – Despite trenchant warnings from China in an outpouring of official remarks and media commentaries, US President Barack Obama on Feb 5 not only took part in a public event attended by Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, but also offered a special welcome to him in his opening remark. The occasion was the congressionally organized annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC, attended by more than 3,000 leaders from the US and over 100 countries. The President hailed the Dalai Lama as a ‘good friend’.
The two Nobel Peace laureates greeted each other as Obama entered the ball room of a luxury hotel. The Dalai Lama, 79, was seated in the front row across Obama, who nodded and smiled at the Tibetan leader who was a special guest. Senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett sat at the Dalai Lama’s table.
“I want to offer a special welcome to a good friend, His Holiness the Dalai Lama — who is a powerful example of what it means to practice compassion, who inspires us to speak up for the freedom and dignity of all human beings. I’ve been pleased to welcome him to the White House on many occasions, and we’re grateful that he’s able to join us here today,” President Obama said in his address at the gathering to a second round of applause.
The first round of applause occurred when organisers recognised the Tibetan leader among the audience. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), reading a prepared statement by HH the Pope, and introducing the presence of the Dalai Lama, said, “All of us will have the extraordinary privilege today to be joined at this breakfast by another inspirational spiritual leader and peacemaker, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We are honored by his Presence.” At this introduction, President Obama and the first lady clapped and then the President gave a short bow before smiling broadly and waving to the Dalai Lama.
In his address, President Obama further said, “There aren’t that many occasions that bring His Holiness under the same roof as NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing). (Laughter.) This may be the first. But God works in mysterious ways,” the president said.
Former top NASCAR driver Darrell Waltrip was the keynote speaker at the gathering.
This was the first time the Dalai Lama and a US President appeared together at a public event since the Tibetan religious leader was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007. President Obama and the Dalai Lama had previously met privately in the White House in 2010, 2011 and 2014.
President Obama focused most of his remarks on the power of religion for good around the world; he also spoke about the rise of extremists who he said twist religion to perpetrate violence. Speaking after Sister Mary Scullion, an advocate for the homeless in Philadelphia, and Kent Brantely, the doctor who contracted Ebola while fighting the epidemic in West Africa, Obama honed in on the contradiction between religious do-gooders and extremists who twist their religion for evil.
Matteo Mecacci, President of Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet, welcomed the event. He said: “The attendance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the National Prayer Breakfast is indicative of his significance as a moral and religious leader to both American Government and the American people, as well as religious people worldwide. The words of appreciation publicly expressed for the first time by President Obama confirm the support of the American government to his peaceful advocacy.”
And he also said: “At the same time it is sobering to reflect that while the Dalai Lama is welcomed at the highest levels in Washington, DC, in his homeland the Chinese authorities have engaged in an increasingly aggressive campaign against him – characterizing his teachings as incitement to terrorism – and repress religious freedom. China’s bullying tactics against the Nobel Prize Laureate and global icon of peace are not a sign of strength of a rising world power, but an indicator of insecurity, exposing only the lack of moral authority of the Communist Party state.”
The annual event is sponsored by a bipartisan coalition of Congressmen and Senators and attended by religious authorities from all over the world.