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Donald Trump used the religious backdrop to take photos while protests were taking place in opposition to police brutality against Black Americans, following the death of George Floyd. Mr Floyd died last week after then Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck while detaining him.
The protests started in Minneapolis, and quickly spread to Chicago and New York, and many other cities across the US over the weekend.
Trump’s visit to a religious shrine came the morning after he made a very public trek from the White House to St. John’s Episcopal Church, which caught on fire during riots on Sunday.
In order for the president to get to the church, he had to cross Lafayette Square, which was full of demonstrators peacefully protesting outside the White House gates.
Before the president left the mansion, police were ordered to disperse the group of protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets, creating a clear path for him to get to the church.
However, bishops in charge of the St John’s Episcopal Church were not made aware of the visit and many were outraged at the police violence towards protesters fuelled by his visit.
Around 20 bishops and volunteers, who were giving out snacks and refreshments to protesters, were told the leave the church so that Mr Trump could have his picture taken.
Reverend Gini Gerbasi, from a nearby church in Georgetown, told Religious News Service that when she left briefly to get supplies, armed police began to set off tear gas to expel protesters.
“I was suddenly coughing from the tear gas.
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“We heard those explosions and people would drop to the ground because you weren’t sure what it was,” Ms Gerbasi said.
“They turned holy ground into a battleground.”
The next day, as Washington, D.C. cleaned up Tuesday morning, Trump took first lady Melania on a trip to the national shrine to Pope John Paul II – a second religious visit in two days.
This has caused church leaders to speak out against the president’s actions.
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“I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree,” Archbishop Wilton Gregory said in a statement just before Trump’s visit to the national shrine
Gregory is the nation’s highest-ranking African-American bishop and has led the Archdiocese of Washington for just over a year.
Archbishop Wilton Gregory, head of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., said Donald Trump’s actions in posing for photos at religious sites are “reprehensible”
In the statement, the Archbishop pointed to the late Pope John Paul Il’s defense of human rights in condemning “the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace.”
Although he did not use the president’s name once in the statement, it was titled “Archbishop Wilton Gregory Issues Statement on Planned Presidential Visit,” and claimed that Trump’s actions Monday and Tuesday were all for the photo-op.
During the visit to the shrine, Trump appeared to tell the first lady, Melania Trump, to smile.
In footage taken of the visit to the shrine on Tuesday, the president was filmed briefly uttering something to Ms Trump, before smiling for the photographers, who were documenting their visit.
He then appeared to notice that she was not smiling, and spoke to her again before Ms Trump then forced a smile.
About five hours after making the visit to the shrine, Melania released four photos from the short trip to her official @FLOTUS Twitter page and shared a message where she reasserted her husband’s “passion for religious freedom.”
“@POTUS & I honoured the life & legacy of Saint John Paul II at @JP2Shrine today,’ the first lady posted.
“His passion & dedication for religious freedom is a legacy that we must protect for people around the world.”
One of the images is of the first couple from behind kneeling in front of the altar in the shrine’s chapel.
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