National Shrine

‘Baffling and Reprehensible': Trump's Visit to DC Shrine Draws Protests, Criticism by Archbishop

The president and first lady laid the wreath to honor what would have been St. John Paul II’s 100th birthday, on May 18

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President Donald Trump faced a second day of criticism by religious leaders in Washington, D.C., as he briefly visited holy sites while protests following the killing of George Floyd continue to rock the city. 

Trump and first lady Melania Trump visited the Saint John Paul II National Shrine on Tuesday, laying a red, white and blue wreath.

Washington Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory criticized the visit and people held protest signs as the presidential motorcade passed. 

“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,” Gregory said in a statement. 

“Saint Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings.  His legacy bears vivid witness to that truth. He certainly would not condone 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,” he continued. 

The president and first lady laid the wreath to honor what would have been St. John Paul II’s 100th birthday, on May 18. 

For about two minutes, they walked out of a shrine building, bowed their heads before the statue and wreath, and stood for photos.

There was no opportunity to ask questions, reporters on the scene said. Information was not immediately released on with whom the Trumps spoke at the shrine. Their motorcade left the White House at about 12:30 p.m. and returned by 12:50 p.m., a pool report says. Traffic was stopped, WTOP reported.

“Black lives matter” and “Stop killing black people,” signs along the motorcade’s route said. Some people raised their fists and middle fingers, according to reporters on the scene.

Protest signs can be seen as President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump's motorcade passes on their way to visit the Saint John Paul II National Shrine to lay a ceremonial wreath and observe a moment of remembrance under the Statue of Saint John Paul II on June 2, 2020. (Credit: Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images)

Trump left the White House Monday evening for a brief photo-op outside St. John’s Church, a day after protesters started a fire there. The president held up a Bible. 

Bishop Mariann Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington said she was "outraged" that the president had used the church and a Bible as political props.

"The President just used a Bible and one of the churches of my diocese as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything that our church stands for,” she said. “To do so, he sanctioned the use of tear gas by police officers in riot gear to clear the church yard."

People hold protest signs as President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump's motorcade passes on their way to visit the Saint John Paul II National Shrine to lay a ceremonial wreath and observe a moment of remembrance under the Statue of Saint John Paul II on June 2, 2020. (Credit: Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said earlier Tuesday that federal forces violently and unnecessarily cleared people from outside the church to make way for Trump.

“I didn’t see any provocation that would warrant the deployment of munitions, especially for the purpose of moving the president,” she said at a news conference. 

U.S. Park Police said protesters threw "bricks, frozen water bottles and caustic liquids" before D.C.'s 7 p.m. curfew was imposed. Three warnings were issued over a loudspeaker before the area was cleared with pepper balls and smoke canisters, Park Police said.

Stay with NBC Washington for more details on this developing story. 

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