(The Hill) – President Joe Biden marked Ash Wednesday during his visit to Warsaw, attending a private Catholic Mass in a hotel room with a Polish priest.
Biden, the second Catholic president in U.S. history, was seen with a cross of ashes on his forehead in photographs on Wednesday afternoon ahead of a summit of the Bucharest Nine, the countries that make up NATO’s Eastern flank. Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent for many Christians, including Roman Catholics.
Father Wieslaw Dawidowski, an Augustinian priest, wrote on Facebook that he gave Biden ashes, sharing photographs of the private mass. He said that the two prayed together for peace, just days after the president visited Ukraine to mark the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion.
“Even the most powerful in this world take ashes — if they belong to the Catholic tradition. I had the honor today of placing ashes on the forehead of the US President Mr. Joe Biden. Everything took place in great secrecy, but now I can speak: in an improvised chapel, next to the President’s apartment. We prayed for peace, the conversion of Russia and the light of the Holy Spirit for Mr. President,” Dawidowski said.
Biden celebrated Ash Wednesday in a private ceremony last year as well. He was in Washington and received ashes from Cardinal Wilton Gregory, during which they prayed together for the people of Ukraine.
Last year, Biden said he gave up sweets for Lent. The president, who is a well-known ice cream lover, has not publicly said this year what he is giving up.
Biden’s Catholic faith came up on Wednesday during a meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda in Warsaw, when the two discussed Pope John Paul II, who was Polish.
Duda first brought up John Paul II, and Biden then told a story about when he was a senator on the Foreign Relations Committee and got a call from the late pope.
“I came back from Europe, and I wrote a report saying that Poland would be free within a matter of a year. And my chief of staff then said, ‘Please don’t write that because you’re going to look foolish,’” Biden recalled.
“And I got a phone call from John Paul, asking whether I’d meet with him. And as a practicing Catholic, I joked with him that he was more conservative than my views were. And I went to see him, and we finished the conversation, and it was all about Poland. He never once mentioned anything about Catholicism,” he added.
Biden’s Catholic faith has been in the spotlight since the start of the presidency, with conservative leaders of the church trying to deny him communion over his stance on abortion rights. He also butted heads with Catholic bishops in December over same-sex marriage protections.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) adopted a document on communion in Nov. 2021 without mentioning whether Biden or other politicians should be denied the rite based on their stance on abortion, signaling an end to the debate on the issue.