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The Pope Is Coming!


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What's It All About?
We Need Hope

Pope Benedict XVI is coming to the United States for his first pastoral visit April 15-20. It’s unlikely that he’ll have the “star power” of Pope John Paul II, but think about it: The pope is the pope. This is a big deal. It will be all over the TV, newspapers, magazines and Internet during the coming weeks.

As the symbol of unity for Catholics worldwide, as the man elected to take the mantle “Vicar of Christ on Earth,” Benedict has an ability to energize people that might just surprise us.

The theme for his pastoral visit is “Christ Our Hope,” and, honestly, such a theme could not come at a better time—but that in a moment.


Ever since his election in April of 2005, some dioceses in the United States have harbored hopes of a papal visit. Pope John Paul II had last visited the United States, at St. Louis, Missouri, ever-so-briefly en route from Mexico to Rome, in 1999.

The secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, issued an invitation last year for the pope to address the U.N. at its New York headquarters. Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, speaking for U.S. planners, told the bishops in November, “It seemed appropriate to invite him to Washington.”

Preparations have been under way since last August. This visit, partially due to the pope’s advanced age (he celebrates his 81st birthday while in Washington), has been limited to two venues: Washington, D.C., and New York City.

But it’s billed as much more than Washington and New York: It’s an “Apostolic Visit to the United States of America and to the Seat of the United Nations,” announced Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the United States. On this visit there will be addresses, liturgies and visits to all manner of people. Truthfully, both in Washington and in New York, the pope is going to cover a lot of ground!

His itinerary includes multiple stops in the Washington, D.C., area, including talks to priests and bishops of the United States, interfaith leaders, President and Mrs. Bush, Catholic educators and a public Mass at Washington’s new baseball stadium.

Then he’s off to New York to address the United Nations, in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II (1979 and 1995) and Pope Paul VI (1965). While in New York, Pope Benedict will address an ecumenical gathering at a historic German parish; celebrate Mass with priests, deacons and members of religious orders; have encounters with young people (including seminarians, who may or may not be young!) and people with disabilities. He will visit Ground Zero, site of 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Then he will conclude the trip with a Mass at Yankee Stadium, commemorating the 200th anniversaries of several archdioceses: New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Louisville.

A papal visit is always a grand media event, but Pope Benedict isn’t coming to the United States and to the United Nations merely for show-and-tell.

His theme, “Christ Our Hope,” is a key message of this pope to the world. “There are but three things that last,” wrote St. Paul in his first Letter to the Corinthians, “faith, hope and love” (13:13).

Moving toward the 2000th celebration of St. Paul’s birth, a yearlong observance which begins in June, Pope Benedict is continuing his theological reflection on these virtues for the world.

His recent encyclical, Saved by Hope, issued in November, follows his first encyclical, God Is Love, which came out soon after he was elected pope.

Is the world not in great, nay, desperate, need of hope? Everywhere we are surrounded by hope’s opposite: violence worldwide—even the institutional violence of war—mind-numbing poverty, the destruction of our environment.

Closer to home, is not each of us complicit in a lack of hope? Perhaps we fight with our neighbors, or push to get ahead at others’ expense. Sometimes we might even ignore the needs of those whom we say we love the most. Are we not in need of hope?

What else could this pope talk about in New York when he stands at the site of the destruction of 9/11? What can we carry forward from those bitter ashes of destruction?

What better theme could the pope strike when talking to our nation’s bishops, priests and seminarians in light of the tarring that our clergy has taken in recent years? Or to the contributing parishioners who have watched millions of dollars evaporate in abuse-related legal settlements, who have been jolted into child-safety concerns at, of all places, church, who may have seen their beloved parishes fold as diocesan budgets tighten?

What better message could he bring to the United Nations? Without hope, how can we possibly move forward as individuals, as a Church, as a human race?

In his second encyclical, Pope Benedict draws carefully the connection between faith and hope, and also the connection between suffering and hope.

Our hope, through and from Christ himself, is the key to our humanity, writes Benedict: “Faith is not merely a personal reaching out towards things to come that are still totally absent: It gives us something now of the reality we are waiting for.” Now that is hope.—J.F.

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