Allow me to begin by thanking Archbishop Wuerl for his kind invitation to join all of you this morning in this press briefing on Papal Thought in preparation for the historic first visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United States of America. It seems so appropriate that we gather here in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, our Patroness and the site of the Holy Father’s meeting with his brothers, the bishops of the United States.
I have been asked repeatedly how His Holiness views our country. As a preamble we might consider some of his recent remarks to Ambassador Glendon at the presentation of her credential letters last February 29 “From the dawn of the Republic, American has been…a nation which values the role of religious belief in ensuring a vibrant and ethically sound democratic order. Your nation’s 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.”(Pope Benedict XVI, Feb. 29, 2008)
You see that, on one hand, he acknowledges this country’s role as model and teacher, while on the other he insists on the importance of looking ahead and assuring progress in the realization of a 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, which is increasingly aware of its interdependence and the need for effective solidarity in meeting global challenges and building a future of peace for coming generations.”
There is no question that the Holy Father perceives clearly his role as teacher and evangelizer. His devotion to diligent personal study, his responsibilities, and a very simple lifestyle characterized his manner during the years that I witnessed his direction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. He was known for his deference and courtesy to visiting bishops, even to the point of escorting them to the door of the office. He was seldom seen at diplomatic receptions, but was known as a man who dedicated himself to office and home.
He was easily recognized as he walked in his simple black cassock from the renaissance building which housed his office to the plain oblong block of apartments on the other side of St. Peter’s Square which housed his residence. He lived alone there after his sister passed away.Even today his lifestyle is still very simple. Despite the beauty of the Apostolic Palace, the papal living quarters are very plain. Until St. Pius X (elected in 1903), the popes lived on the piano nobile or second floor of the palace. The present offices of the Secretary of State were the papal apartments until that time. So the present Holy Father has surrounded himself with his books and continues his reserved life style. He generally does not have guests at meals or at his private Mass. In that sense, he has changed the practice of his beloved predecessor, the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II.
He is a kind man who looks intently at his interlocutor and gives him his undivided attention. His public schedule is indeed less ambitious than that of his predecessor, but he has established his priorities and there must be time for study, writing, and rest. At almost 81 years of age he maintains a very heavy schedule.One other innovation in his schedule is the afternoon walk in the Vatican Gardens. At precisely 4 p.m. every afternoon, he is driven up into the gardens for a walk. That is actually a return to the tradition of Blessed Pope John XXIII, abandoned so as not to clear the gardens of everyone.
Anyone who has listened to his statements since the election of “a simple and humble laborer in the vineyard of the Lord” (Pope Benedict XVI, April 19, 2005) knows that he is a capable speaker who draws from his vast theological preparation and experience. He has a clear message and asks difficult questions. The center of his encyclical on love, which insists on the importance of its practice or his question in Spe Salvi — does the contemporary Christian believer still hope? — manifest his willingness to tackle contemporary problems.
Obviously, he is kept abreast of the world situation by the pontifical representatives, apostolic nuncios and delegates, and the bishops and religious throughout the world. His interventions to the diplomatic community have made clear the depth of his understanding and analysis of world situation and his ardent desire for world peace. He expects the United States to play a role in the realization of that goal:
“I cannot fail to note with gratitude the importance which the United States has attributed to interreligious and intercultural dialogue as a positive force for peacemaking. The Holy See is convinced of the great spiritual potential represented by such dialogue, particularly with regard to the promotion of nonviolence and the rejection of ideologies which manipulate and disfigure religion for political purposes, and justify violence in the name of God. The American people’s historic appreciation of the role of religion in shaping public discourse and in shedding light on the inherent moral dimension of social issues…” (Pope Benedict XVI, Feb. 29, 2008) [is evident].
He is also very clear and precise in his presentation of the important themes and issues.
I – like all of you – am very much looking forward to his messages to all of us during his visit. It is certain that they will be useful both for the faithful and for the community of nations. I do not doubt that he will seek to promote the cause of peace and respect for the human rights of all from conception to natural death.
Allow me to close with the greeting which the Holy Father addressed to the representatives of the media shortly after his election:
“Dear ladies and gentlemen, I thank you again for the important service that you provide to society. I extend to each one of you my cordial appreciation with the assurance of a remembrance in my prayer for all your intentions. I extend my greeting to your families and to all who belong to your work community. Through the intercession of the heavenly Mother Christ, I invoke abundantly upon each of you the gifts of God, through whom I impart my blessing to all. (Pope Benedict XVI, March 23, 2005)
Papal Thought – Remarks of Archbishop Timothy Broglio
Archbishop of the Military Services of the USA
Media Briefing – March 13, 2008