London, England, Jun 14, 2021 / 03:30 am (CNA).
Catholics in the English seaside town of St. Ives, Cornwall, were surprised Sunday to find the President of the United States at Mass in their parish church.
Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden attended the 9 a.m. Mass on June 13 at Sacred Heart and St. Ia Church, southwest England, on the final day of the G7 summit at Carbis Bay.
Biden, America’s second Catholic President after John F. Kennedy, and his wife spent around 30 minutes at the church amid tight security.
The celebrant Canon Philip Dyson told the PA news agency that the couple’s presence made him feel slightly nervous.
“It’s the President of the United States of America,” he said. “It’s a great occasion to welcome him into our parish, into the church, and it’s lovely to know he made the time in his busy schedule in order to come to Mass.”
Dyson told PA that he had a short conversation with Biden.
“I welcomed him to Cornwall and he said he was enjoying his time here and there were many serious matters they were discussing and just hope it’s going to come to fruition,” he said.
The priest added that the Scripture readings for the day were fitting as they concerned “creation and climate, and things growing.”
The G7 leaders agreed to increase efforts to tackle climate change and renewed a promise to raise $100 billion a year to help developing nations cut emissions.
Dyson stressed that the day’s readings were not selected “by choice.”
“It’s just the way it always is. The word of God always fits in,” he said.
The canon is pastor of the parish of the Holy Family, which encompasses four local Catholic churches within the Diocese of Plymouth, including the Sacred Heart and St. Ia.
St. Ia was an evangelist from Ireland who died as a martyr in Cornwall in the fifth or sixth century.
A parishioner told the Associated Press that she was “gobsmacked” to see the Bidens at Mass in the town with a population of around 12,000 people.
“It’s quite amazing, we went into the church and they took some details from us and I thought this is a bit unusual,” said Annie Fitzpatrick.
“About 10 minutes into the service the doors opened up and President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden walked in and just sat in the pew just across from me.”
The reports did not touch on whether Biden received Holy Communion — a topic of considerable controversy given his stance on abortion.
According to the parish newsletter, the Mass intention was for the G7 summit.
The newsletter included an appeal to the congregation to contact their local MP to urge the U.K. government to revoke a temporary measure allowing women up to 10 weeks pregnant to take both abortion pills at home. The measure was introduced at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Another parishioner told the AP that Biden appeared to make a “very generous donation” to the church before he left.
As he exited, Biden described the church as “beautiful.”