Thursday March 19, 2020 marked mid-Lent. In the midst of the great annual retreat of the Church which lasts forty days, it is interesting to note that, alone among all the principal heads of state on the planet, the President of the United States has issued a presidential message conveying his best wishes on the beginning of the observance of Lent.
On Ash Wednesday, Donald Trump, the President of the United States, and Melania Trump, the first lady, released a statement to mark the beginning of the season of Lent for Catholics, and to “assure them of their prayers.” An opportunity to mobilize an electorate of decisive weight in American political life.
“Today, millions of Christians will be marked on their foreheads with the sign of the cross. The imposition of ashes is an invitation to spend time during Lent fasting, praying, and engaging in acts of charity,” said the statement from the Trumps.
Using a sermon-like tone, the White House tenants warned: “This powerful and sacred tradition reminds us of our shared mortality, Christ’s saving love, and the need to repent and accept the Gospel more fully.” It would be difficult to imagine a similar press release from any of the many secularized western countries.
This is the first time since their arrival at the White House, Donald Trump, a Presbyterian, and his wife Melania, a Catholic, have published such a communiqué on the occasion of the start of Lent.
The Catholic Church in the United States brings together 70 million faithful, about 22% of the American population. It is the most important religious denomination, in particular because of the regular, decades long, settlement of “Latinos” in the country.
From a political point of view, the Catholic vote is important, even crucial. In 2016, 50% of the Catholic electorate voted for Donald Trump. Currently, opinion polls tend to show that he would have the support of only 44% of them. Among the reasons for this development, the construction of the wall on the Mexican border, criticisms by part of the episcopate, and the historic tendency of Catholics to vote for the Democratic Party.