First on CNN: Obama picks D.C. Episcopal priest to deliver inauguration benediction
The Rev. Luis León walks with the first couple on January 20, 2009, the day of President Barack Obama's first inauguration.
January 15th, 2013
06:14 PM ET

First on CNN: Obama picks D.C. Episcopal priest to deliver inauguration benediction

By Lisa Desjardins and Eric Marrapodi, CNN

Washington (CNN) - The president has picked a neighbor to deliver the closing prayer at the inauguration.

The Rev. Luis León told CNN on Tuesday the White House and the Presidential Inaugural Committee invited him last week to deliver the closing prayer at the 57th Presidential Inauguration.

León pastors Saint John’s Church, an Episcopal parish just across Lafayette Park from the White House, dubbed the “Church of the Presidents.”

"I found out last week,” he told CNN in an interview on Tuesday.

A source close to the inaugural committee confirmed León would be delivering the benediction and said a formal announcement would be coming later in the week.

The historic church León has pastored since 1995 has been connected to every president since its founding in 1815. Inside the historic building, Pew 54 is reserved for presidents whenever they come to worship.

President Barack Obama and his family have worshiped at the church numerous times during his first term. They have visited the church more times than any other during his presidency, and the president and León are said to have a good relationship.

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León’s benediction will mark his second appearance on the inauguration stage. In 2005 he delivered the invocation for the President George W. Bush’s second inauguration.

"You don't get used to this. I'm just as nervous now as I was the first time,” León said. “From the moment someone asks you to do that, your wheels are spinning with what to say. So my wheels were spinning now."

León was the president’s second choice for the benediction.

The selection comes less than a week after Louie Giglio, an evangelical pastor from Atlanta, bowed out of the closing prayer after a sermon he delivered in the mid-1990s surfaced that critics called “vehemently anti-gay.” Giglio’s sermon has been defended by some socially conservative Christians as ardently as critics have opposed it. Giglio, known for his work in raising awareness of and combating global slavery, withdrew the morning after the sermon was posted by liberal advocacy website Think Progress. Giglio said in a letter to the White House and the inaugural committee, “it is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda a focal point of the inauguration.”

CNN: Giglio bows out of inauguration over sermon on gays

After Giglio withdrew, a spokeswoman for the inaugural committee said they were "not aware of Pastor Giglio's past comments at the time of his selection and they don't reflect our desire to celebrate the strength and diversity of our country at this Inaugural."

“I don't mind being in the bullpen; relievers are very important," León said, smiling. He added, "I was delighted to be asked and honored to be asked."

León said it will be important for him to craft a prayer for the present time. He said he’s talking and listening closely to those around him for inspiration on what he will say when he steps up to the microphone.

“I think when we're asking a blessing for this country,” he said, “I think we're asking God to lift us up, to lift up what's good in us. To remind us of what's good in us and remind us to do what's proper, what's the good, the right thing for the country."

León, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was born in Guantanamo, Cuba. He came the United States in 1961 at age of 11 as one of the "Peter Pan children.” At the time, many Cuban parents sent their children out of Cuba fearing Fidel Castro's regime would take them and put them in camps. León’s mother eventually joined them in the United States.

There are large issues facing his adoptive country, León said. "The thing that I think is on everyone's mind is, how are we going to work together? You know, everybody, after each election, talks about mandates. My perspective is the American people's mandate is to work it out. And somehow we need to be drawn together by that which binds us and not that which separates us. I think that's mostly on everybody's mind."

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León also said the president and the vice president will be attending a pre-inauguration service at Saint John’s on Monday morning.

The Episcopal Church, the American branch of the Anglican tradition,  voted at their annual convention in July to approve the blessing of same-sex ceremonies. Such services are not considered marriage ceremonies, media affairs representative Nancy Davidge told CNN at the time.

"We have authorized a blessing, and a blessing is different than a marriage," Davidge said. "A blessing is a theological response to a monogamous, committed relationship."

The move makes the church, with 2 million adherents, the largest U.S. denomination to sanction such ceremonies. Earlier this month the Washington National Cathedral announced it would begin hosting such ceremonies immediately following the implementation of a Maryland law allowing same-sex marriage.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Barack Obama • Episcopal • Politics

soundoff (326 Responses)
  1. TheAntiChrist

    Yoda say thats why you fail.

    January 16, 2013 at 12:20 am |
  2. Reality

    What the pastor should say but of course will not because he suffers from the Three B Syndrome i.e. Bred, Born and Brainwashed in his religion:

    (Only for the inauguration attendees, viewers and new members of this blog)

    The Apostles' / Agnostics’ Creed 2013 (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven?????

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
    ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    (References used are available upon request.)

    January 16, 2013 at 12:19 am |
  3. Consequence

    For all his rhetoric – Obama shuns diversity....he only invites those who think like he does – what a joke! Might as well have been Jeremiah Wright.

    January 15, 2013 at 11:40 pm |
    • oldowl

      Didn't you read the story which spoke of President Obama inviting fundamentalist Mr. Gigilo to speak, and he bowed out, knowing that his is not the faith of our Christian God. In his first Inauguration, the President invited none other than born again bible thumper, Rick Warren, who actually appeared. So, you need to get some current reading materials and brush up on your civics, man.

      January 16, 2013 at 12:37 am |

    Buddha bless you all.

    January 15, 2013 at 11:35 pm |
  5. IcemanN4

    Fake Christian. Read this guy's MO and then read about the antichrist. Very interesting. People say Hitler may have been the antichrist......he disarmed his people first also.....then showed his TRUE COLORS!

    January 15, 2013 at 11:26 pm |

      Buddha bless you.

      January 15, 2013 at 11:36 pm |
    • oldowl

      On the basis of your writings here alone, I picture you as having red, apoplectic cheeks, and buck teeth. How right am I?

      January 16, 2013 at 12:40 am |

    America was founded on ISLAMIC principles. Obama MUST picks D.C. Imam to deliver inauguration blessing and guidance of Allah.

    January 15, 2013 at 11:17 pm |
  7. BigdaddyUSA

    Wasn't the radical Islamic cleric from Iraq avalable?

    January 15, 2013 at 11:01 pm |

      Buddha bless Bigdaddy too.

      January 15, 2013 at 11:37 pm |
    • sam stone

      Wow, Bigdaddy, how hip and edgy....

      January 16, 2013 at 6:34 am |
  8. breathe deep

    Did you ever wonder why you have never seen or heard of another muslim socialist communist marxist facist dictator tyrant? Because no such thing exists. So what are the chances that obama is the only one on earth?

    January 15, 2013 at 10:57 pm |
    • IcemanN4

      Everything has a first.

      January 15, 2013 at 11:27 pm |
  9. Giorgio

    “I don't mind being in the bullpen; relievers are very important," León said, smiling. He added, "I was delighted to be asked and honored to be asked."

    LOL.....this priest is a "pitcher" and "catcher".....and he is a "reliever"......the gay-lovers have chosen a winner....

    January 15, 2013 at 10:56 pm |
    • breathe deep

      Well at least he also takes the pitch as opposed to the overwhelmingly massive number of priests that regulate the catching to their alter boys. oh snap.

      January 15, 2013 at 11:08 pm |
    • *

      breathe deep:

      It's "altar" boy. An "alter" boy sounds sort of like what a transs'exual person might be after reassignment treatment...

      January 15, 2013 at 11:23 pm |
    • breathe deep

      oh you are so right, it is altar boy. Does that have any bearing as to why I am wrong?

      January 15, 2013 at 11:28 pm |
  10. urbanmoonlite

    For all that is worth he should had went and got his spiritual head from chicago to do the prayer and benediction Rev. Wright that would.take America by storm. Many Blessings with his decision.

    January 15, 2013 at 10:53 pm |
    • End Religion

      [insert priest joke using "spiritual head" reference]

      January 16, 2013 at 12:45 am |
  11. cd

    ANYTHING to promote YOUR "god" OBAMA,nothing good enought to have a PIC. of OBAMA on EVERY PAGE!

    January 15, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son


      January 15, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
    • End Religion

      cd, take your temperature. I hear there is a flu epidemic and you are clearly delusional.

      January 15, 2013 at 10:25 pm |
  12. Al

    Thank GOD for NFL Sunday.

    January 15, 2013 at 9:58 pm |
  13. Banjo Ferret

    This is a tragedy. The only viable option for the inauguration benediction is an address by the Ferretian Ultimate Cardinal Knight. Ferretianism is the one true religion. Repent! (banjoferret d c)

    January 15, 2013 at 9:57 pm |
  14. Baptist31

    I am not surprised he picked a buutt pirate loving church for his inauguration.

    January 15, 2013 at 9:56 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Because Baptists are all straight.

      Loony, but straight.

      January 15, 2013 at 9:57 pm |
  15. rs1201

    How about not picking any pastor, priest, imam, or rabbi. We have separation of church and state in this country and picking that pastor is alienating everyone else who's not Episcopalian or who may just be an atheist. Not picking a man of the cloth would be sending a message that we honor and respect everyone's belief system. Obama could have picked an American poet or writer and asked him to deliver a brief speech on the need for unity and harmony in our country. That would have suggested that Obama is a true statesman and worthy of the highest office in the land...and really the world.

    January 15, 2013 at 9:32 pm |
    • Gir

      But that would be political suicide!

      No one's right's are safe in a nation where a large chunk of the population buys into this religionist delusion. When a politician is LAUDED for declaring that his irrational religious beliefs inform his decisions, you know democracy cannot survive for much longer.

      January 15, 2013 at 9:43 pm |
    • Kevin H

      I think using a Unitarian minister would work well given that Unitarians honor all beliefs. And they send a clear signal about our belief in Democracy and freedom.

      January 15, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
  16. Colin

    I think Richard Dawkins would have been the best choice. He could have given a wonderful address free of gods and other supernatural beings.

    January 15, 2013 at 9:24 pm |
    • Elliot Carlin

      Yes Colin, and so in keeping with our American tradition. O that's right, you don't believe we are endowed by our Creator with certain rights. See how it all breaks down? Guess so, cause they are getting ready to take a number of our rights away in the next 4 years. Go to England and take Piers w/you.

      January 15, 2013 at 9:32 pm |
    • Gir

      Ridiculous religionist reasoning is ridiculous.

      January 15, 2013 at 9:40 pm |
    • End Religion

      Our rights are given to us by ourselves via government. As usual, no creator desired or needed.

      January 15, 2013 at 10:34 pm |
    • breathe deep

      Or it could be that Colin believes that his rights are endowed by his creator, his parents. Oh that's right, you only believe that a god can create people, and no amount of people having relations with each other would ever possibly result in a pregnancy. So anyway, seeing as how we are already 4 years into this administration (which I was personally assured by members of the fox team that all of our rights and freedoms would be taken away at this point in time), can you list the rights and freedoms you've lost in this 4 years?

      January 15, 2013 at 10:51 pm |
    • CHRIS

      Dawkins would be an excellent choice or he could have invited a leader from the Ethical Humanist Society since some of our leadership seem to be lacking in ehtics these days.....

      January 16, 2013 at 12:04 am |
  17. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    Bishop John Shelby Spong would have been a better choice. A lot of Episcopalian clergy have fairly attenuated beliefs, though. If they chose the right one it may be the case that during the inauguration none of the principals actually believe in the incantations they feel they have to say to impress the theist masses.

    January 15, 2013 at 9:14 pm |
  18. Amanda Huginkiss

    Probably the official pastor of the New B1ack Panthers

    January 15, 2013 at 9:13 pm |
    • Elliot Carlin

      that or the chaplain of LaRaza. they are such sweet people.

      January 15, 2013 at 9:30 pm |
    • End Religion

      enjoy that 2nd term without assault weapons and high-capacity magazines!

      January 15, 2013 at 10:37 pm |
    • Patience

      Yes... that would be why President Bush invited him to deliver the invocation at his 2005 inauguration as well. This conspiracy goes all the way to 11!

      January 15, 2013 at 10:41 pm |
  19. AziaticArab

    It's his final term, he should have had Reverend Jeremiah Wright as the pastor.

    January 15, 2013 at 9:08 pm |
    • Elliot Carlin

      Wonder why he didn't? Rev Wright is such a sweet person when he advocates racism, liberation theology and marxism. Chairman Obama sat there for 20 years and never heard a word of it.


      January 15, 2013 at 9:29 pm |

      why not true American patriot brother Louis Farrakhan.

      January 15, 2013 at 11:20 pm |
    • oldowl

      Why not sweet old, honey-suckin' Billie Graham? Word has it that he's into cults and into selling out to the highest bidder. Oh, what am I thinking? He could have got Rev. Fred Phelps, of the Westboro
      Baptist Church if he had only been thinking of sweet and lovable patriots. I'm sure the teabaggers and their trolls on this board would lick their chops at that. You people SUCK!

      January 16, 2013 at 12:49 am |
  20. buccakenji

    "Obama picks Episcopal priest to deliver inauguration benediction". WHY ?!? Obama is a Musslin.

    January 15, 2013 at 9:08 pm |
    • Mike Buck

      What exactly is a "Musslin"? You need to fill out an ID TEN T form because you are an IDIOT!

      January 15, 2013 at 9:14 pm |
    • cj

      Yes! Obama is a fabric ie "muslin" you are an insult to morons. If you are incapable of distinguishing between a fabric and a religion, you should consider sitting out future postings.

      January 15, 2013 at 9:19 pm |
    • Elliot Carlin

      thanks CJ-the world is a better place because of the distinctions you make. don't close that Google window.

      January 15, 2013 at 9:33 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.