By John Thavis
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Benedict XVI will not bring political directives during his U.S. trip, but his reflections should help Americans make a "deeper moral judgment" during this year's election campaign, a leading U.S. cardinal said.
Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, one of two U.S. cardinals who will accompany the pope from Rome to the United States in mid-April, said he thinks Americans will listen closely to what the pope has to say.
"The pope is coming at a particularly sensitive time, with the presidential election scheduled for November," Cardinal Stafford told Catholic News Service in an interview April 8 in his Vatican office.
The cardinal said he does not expect the pope to address partisan political issues, but to "heighten people's awareness" about what is right and what is wrong.
"That is what a religious leader is about, to remind people that there is virtue. And how we, as an American people, can create a higher level of virtue in this country through the choices we make in November," he said.
"My experience is that Americans are very reflective about candidates and the issues. The pope, as a religious leader, will prod them to a deeper moral judgment on these issues," he said.
Cardinal Stafford, the head of the Vatican office that deals with penitential issues, was archbishop of Denver when Pope John Paul II visited for World Youth Day in 1993.
Based on that experience, he had some advice for people following Pope Benedict April 15-20, including those who cannot attend events in Washington and New York: Watch as many events on TV as possible, and try to create a personal space for the pope's spiritual message.
It would help if people spend more time in prayer and meditation during this period, he said.
"I heard recently that in modern and postmodern times, the morning paper has replaced morning prayer. At least during this period, people might want to reverse that, in order to prepare themselves to be receptive to the transcendent," he said.
The cardinal said he was pleased to read that, according to recent polls, a majority of Americans are looking forward to what the pope has to say.
They seem very open to the pope as a person, he said, but their openness will also require a "stretching of their own minds and a deepening of their own hearts to the mystery of God and to the mystery of Christ."
Cardinal Stafford said he expected the pope's most important speeches to be his address to the United Nations in New York and his talk to U.S. Catholic educators in Washington. Measuring the success of his talks will involve a number of factors, he said.
At the United Nations, he said, one can assume the pope will address the threat of "planned violence" that every nation faces today, and whether the world's major religions can be considered a substantial part of the resolution of this violence.
The cardinal said the question is whether the pope's message will be heard and acted upon, or whether the differences in the philosophical and religious traditions are so great that real dialogue is impossible.
He said that when the pope talks with Catholic educators he expects the pontiff to invite them to make a deeper contribution in the dialogue between faith and reason and to emphasize that rationality cannot be reduced to pure subjectivism, in which the human being is perceived as unable to discover what is true and what is not.
The church's teaching tradition holds that reason can reach the truth, and modern Catholic universities and schools should help the whole church understand and promote that, the cardinal said.
In this case, he said, the measure of the pope's success will be the response of Catholic educators.
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