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Pope Francis speaks to the Little Sisters of the Poor in an unscheduled meeting
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Pope Francis made time in his busy schedule to visit nuns at the Little Sisters of the Poor on Wednesday. Vatican officials confirm the papal visit was to support the nuns in their battle against the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act.
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LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA (Catholic Online) - Since his arrival to the United States, Pope Francis has had an extremely busy schedule, so busy that members of Congress were asked not to touch or shake his hands, as is the traditional greeting, to spare the pontiff enough time to keep to his tight schedule.
The Washington Post reported Sister Constance Veit, the communications director for the Little Sisters of the Poor, released a statement saying, "The Holy Father spoke to each of us individually, from the youngest postulate to our centenarian, and then he spoke to all [of] us about the importance of our ministry to the elderly. We were deeply moved by his encouraging words."
The papal visit was disclosed afterward and did not appear on his public schedule. Vatican Press Secretary Reverend Federico Lombardi said, "This is a sign, obviously, of support for them."
USAToday reported the sisters are suing the Obama administration over the Affordable Care Act that requires them to purchase health insurance that provides birth control coverage.
Catholics do not believe in birth control and though the sisters can request a waiver, they filed the lawsuit on behalf of other Catholics by arguing the paperwork infringes on their religious freedom.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is a law that prohibits the government from putting a "substantial burden" on the free exercise of religion.
Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the Little Sisters of the Poor's court case represents a broader understanding of freedom of religion, saying, "Freedom of religion also means the ability to live out your religion."
"The Last thing the Little Sisters of the Poor want to do is sue somebody. They want to serve the poor and the elderly, and do so in a way that doesn't conflict with their beliefs. We feel strongly about that. It's a freedom not of special privilege, it's a freedom to serve others, and serve others in such a way that does not compromise the integrity of our beliefs."
The display of support during a visit where Pope Francis reaches out to conservatives and liberals alike, covering topics that include abortion, religious freedom, immigration and the environment.
Kurtz recognized the pontiff's balancing act between conservatives and liberals and asked people to "hear his whole message," adding, "We have to be careful not to pick one item in isolation. The Holy Father comes as a pastor and as a prophet, and as a prophet he comes with a certain moral voice."
Pope Francis took his message a step further and encouraged vocations to the priesthood and religious lifestyles to the 3,000 seminarians and members of other religious orders who were present in the Basilica before the canonization Mass.
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