Wednesday, April 16, 2008
What follows was posted early this morning. My sources seem to have been correct. The Pope did indeed laud America's religious heritage. The line about Freedom being not only a gift, but "a summons to personal responsibility" was dead on. The ensuing lines saluting those who have sacrificed for freedom was unexpected and certainly welcome from the perspective of the White House. (Posted 12:40 PM)

The lopsided comparisons of Pope Benedict to Pope John Paul the Second in the media are wearying. It is true that Pope Benedict is not the dramatic figure that his predecessor was. At heart, Benedict is a gentle scholar. But why is this a bad thing? In an age of instant impressions and split second communications, here is a man who not only speaks with clarity and precision, but one who takes the time to thinkdeeplyand pray before he opens his mouth. This alone should garner him respectful attention. But that other leaders would follow his example.

Though Pope John Paul the Second is often remembered for his dramatic gestures-- those evocative acts that still linger in memory-- can the general public remember anything he said? Benedict on the other hand, during the first three years of his pontificate has managed to break through the cultural static entirely due to his utteranceshis direct, provocative, original language. From the dictatorship of relativism, to his 2006 address in Regensburg (where he suggested that Islam had lost its reason and the West had lost its faith), Benedict is a quotable Pope, unafraid to cut to the chase and to start a conversation. Expect him to provoke quite a few during his American sojourn. Pope Benedict has also learned well from his more than twenty-three years at the side of John Paul II. When he wants to underscore his message, Benedict is capable of unleashing a bold theatre of substantive acts. Think of his baptism of the Islamic journalist Magdi Allam in Rome this past Easter, or the image of the Pope silently praying beside the Grand Mufti in the Blue Mosque of Istanbul. When he wants to drive home a point, he can do so with a well timed elan that forces the world to listen. Those expecting a cold, distant papal visit to the US could be out of luck.

Benedict XVI believes that reason and a robust faith have the power to reshape culture and the heart of man. Throughout his career as a theologian and now as Pope he has committed himself to reinvigorating Catholic tradition and making the faith reasonable in the face of an unreasonable culture. This will be the thread running through his 11 addresses this week. But dont look for quick solutions, Benedict will take the long view of what ails America and the prescriptions he offers will likely be slow acting medicine. Both his respectful engagement of Islam and the decision to make the old Latin Mass available to any who desire it are the actions of a Pope unafraid to stoke controversy, and willing to wait for results. These initiatives may take generations to bear fruit, but he has started them regardless of the short term discomfort.


Sources organizing the visit in Rome tell me that today at the White House Pope Benedict will laud America for its innate religiosity, its generosity, and its commitment to personal and religious liberty. Forget the reports that the Pope will criticize the war in Iraq or rail at the president. This is not Benedicts style. For the record, the Pope did in fact oppose the Iraq invasion and made it clear before his election that a preventive war could not be considered within the just war tradition. But that is now history. With the murder of Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul just before Easter, and the April 5th drive-by slaying of an Orthodox priest in Bagdad fresh in his memory, the Pope will urge more protection for the Christian minority in Iraq. Whatever their feelings about the decision to invade the country, both the Vatican and Iraqi Christians are convinced that America must maintain a presence in the region to ensure the survival of their community and to give peace a chance to take root. According to the UN, before 2003 there were 1.5 million Christians in Iraq. Today, owing to a mass exodus and the destruction of churches, the population has been cut by half. During his private meeting with the president, the Pope will surely raise the need to protect the weakened Christian remnant in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.

A clue as to what Benedict will probably say at the podium can be gleaned from his words to Mary Ann Glendon, the new US ambassador to the Holy See on the day she presented her credentials to the Pope in late February: From the dawn of the Republic, America has been a nation which values the role of religious belief in ensuring a vibrant and ethically sound democratic order. Your nations example of uniting people of good will, regardless of race, nationality or creed, in a shared vision and a disciplined pursuit of the common good has encouraged many younger nations in their efforts to create a harmonious, free and just social order. Today this task of reconciling unity and diversity, of forging a common vision and summoning the moral energy to accomplish it, has become an urgent priority for the whole human family.

Compared with western Europe, the Pope sees America as a model of religious diversity and harmony, and hell likely say so. As a sign of how Benedict is regarded within the White House, the President initially proposed a formal state dinner to welcome the Pope. The Vatican declined, suggesting that it would be out of character for a Pope to attend such an affair. Nevertheless, a White House dinner in his honor (sans the Pontiff) is scheduled. The White House is pulling out all the stops for the Popes arrival. The fife and drum corps, hymns, a 21 gun salute, and a birthday surprise are all in the offing. Hope you can watch all of it live (or the replay this evening) on EWTN.

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