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