What will the pope say during his U.S. trip? - Catholic Courier

What will the pope say during his U.S. trip?

Pope Benedict XVI will mark the third anniversary of his election to the papacy (April 19, 2005) during his first pastoral visit to the United States (April 15-20). Reporters who aren’t consumed with the U.S. presidential campaign are beginning to ask what the pope is likely to say in the course of next week’s visit. The only honest answer is the conventional one: Those who know aren’t saying, and those who don’t know can only speculate.

The safe speculation is that he will call for peace in his speech before the General Assembly of the United Nations, recalling the visit there of Pope Paul VI when in October 1965, just two-and-a-half years after his own election to the papacy, he cried out twice in French: jamais plus la guerre! (“never again war!”).

There are more than enough trouble spots throughout the world for Pope Benedict to touch upon. One wonders what he will say about the ongoing war in Iraq, which has just passed the five-year mark.

His predecessor, John Paul II, denounced the war on moral grounds and is thought to have urged President Bush to end it. But John Paul II has been dead now for three years and still the war continues.

Pope Benedict will have an opportunity to meet privately with President Bush at the White House on Wednesday morning the 16th. The Vatican Information Service describes it as a “courtesy visit.”

Given the current pope’s laid-back, gentle personality, he may decide that serious discussion of Iraq, much less the kind of blunt talk that John Paul II often engaged in, would not be appropriate.

The pope will preside and preach at the Eucharist in the Washington Nationals’ new stadium at 10 o’clock the next morning. Will he touch upon any of the issues under debate in the current presidential campaign? John Paul II was never reluctant to do so, particularly on such a super-sensitive topic as immigration.

Some politicians and media commentators would probably not be happy if Benedict were to follow in John Paul’s footsteps on the moral obligation of the United States to be welcoming of immigrants.

That same afternoon, the pope will address leaders of Catholic higher education at The Catholic University of America. Is he likely to take a hard-line on Catholic identity, even at the expense of institutional autonomy and academic freedom, or is he more likely to recognize that these values are not mutually opposed, that Catholic universities and colleges can be fully Catholic without compromise of their identity as academic institutions?

The pope also is scheduled to meet with representatives of other religions at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center. Many Muslims are still seriously troubled by the speech that Pope Benedict delivered at Regensburg University in September 2006, and other non-Christians by the document Dominus Iesus, issued six years earlier by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Will the pope say anything to assuage the sensibilities of his largely non-Christian audience, without, of course, compromising any basic tenets of the Catholic faith? It is highly unlikely that he would make matters worse by giving a pre-Vatican II-type talk on the Catholic Church as the one and only path to salvation.

It is on Friday morning that Pope Benedict will address the General Assembly of the United Nations. That evening he is scheduled to participate in an ecumenical meeting at St. Joseph’s Church in New York City. The earlier meeting with non-Christians would have been “interfaith” in character. The word “ecumenical,” however, pertains only to the relationship between and among Christian churches and ecclesial communities.

On Saturday morning, April 19th, the pope will concelebrate Mass with priests and religious in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and at 4:30 that afternoon he will meet with seminarians and other young people at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie (Yonkers).

Here again, he will have the choice of addressing the vocation crisis in realistic terms or of using the occasion to repeat the Catholic Church’s prohibition against the ordination of women and repeat admonitions about the need to obey the hierarchy and to abide by all of the teachings of the magisterium, without qualification or nuance. One recalls with some measure of regret the hard-line speech given by John Paul II at the major seminary for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

The pope will visit “Ground Zero” on Sunday and then preside at Mass at Yankee Stadium, before returning that night to Rome.

One hopes and prays that it will be an exceedingly successful pastoral visit.

Father McBrien is a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.

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