What Now?

Hopefully, the Holy Father’s visit has inspired us all.

First, we want to thank everyone for making uspapalvisit.org a success. Especially to all the people behind the scenes who worked long hours for many days, a heartfelt thank you. Also, we want to thank everyone for your complimentary e-mails.

The live stream and blog among other items were certainly firsts for the Office of Digital Media at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). There were some hiccups but all-in-all it went very well.

So, where do we go from here? We want to make sure everyone gets a chance to view the events of the papal visit. Therefore, uspapalvisit.org will remain up until the end of June. At that time, we will reassess the site to see if there is a need to keep the site going any longer.

On the site, you will find the texts and videos from most of the events. You will also find articles, images, audio and video on events, the church in the U.S. and the Holy Father himself.

We will continue to post reactions from the papal visit among other items as we get them. So, pass the word along to anyone looking for texts or video from the papal visit, they can find them on uspapalvisit.org.

In “Christ Our Hope”

Joe Larson, Director of Digital Media, USCCB

The interreligious gathering with Pope Benedict XVI on April 17, 2008, was entitled “Peace Our Hope” in parallel with the overall title of the Papal Visit to the United States: “Christ Our Hope”. The coincidence between the words “Peace” and “Christ” should not be seen as accidental: the Holy Father’s words reminded all present, Christians and non-Christians, that Jesus of Nazareth “is the eternal Logos who became flesh in order to reconcile man to God and reveal the underlying reason of all things.”

Experience in dialogue has shown us that the highest motivation for our dialogue weakens when we weaken the fundamental convictions of Christian faith. When Christ is known as the Logos, the Word of God, the one “through whom all things were made”, then our efforts at mutual understanding have a real basis in Christian faith. When we have an “ardent desire” to follow and serve Christ, we will quickly discover the sound of his voice in the truths that others have discovered such as compassion, forgiveness, self-sacrifice, intellectual rigor, meditative discipline and moral self-examination. These are resonances of the voice of the Logos. There is indeed, “an unknown Christ” already present in what is good and true in other world religions; the Christian’s love for Christ impels him or her to seek out that “unknown One” wherever he may be found.

Father Francis V. Tiso, Ph.D.
Associate Director, Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

What a graced time for the Catholic Church and, indeed, all Americans, to have Pope Benedict XVI with us during the Easter season! His message of turning to Christ our hope is simple and yet so profound. In his comments at Vespers with the U.S. Bishops, the Holy Father said “People need to . . . cultivate a relationship with him who came that we might have life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10).” As applied to marriage and the family, the Holy Father’s message could not be more relevant.

The Holy Father told the bishops that he was delighted that they have made the strengthening of marriage and the family one of their priorities in the next few years. The risen Lord Jesus should stand at the center of spousal and familial love. The Holy Father said that it is in the family that we experience “some of the fundamental elements of peace: justice and love.” “Mutual help in the necessities of life” are offered by family members to each other. “Readiness to accept others and, if necessary, to forgive” are essential marks of family life.

In addition, Pope Benedict XVI noted that children “deserve to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships.” Where else, but in the family, taught by their loving parents, can children learn this? But, the Holy Father warned, it is useless to “speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes.” Parents need to create a home life that is free of such false and destructive messages.

If we care “about young people and the future of our civilization,” said the Holy Father, then we must recognize “our responsibility to promote and live by the authentic moral values which alone enable the human person to flourish.” Empowered by Christ our hope, it is the unique responsibility of parents to firmly plant and nurture those moral values in their homes.

The “proclamation of . . . life in abundance,” said the Holy Father, “must be the heart of the new evangelization.” In the end, these are God’s gifts to us. My hope is that we will take these gifts into our families, and with Christ as our Lord, allow them to transform us and in turn, our world!

Theresa Notare, MA
Assistant Director, Natural Family Planning Program
Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth

The recent visit to Washington, DC and New York by the Holy Father was a wonderful experience of our Catholic family coming together to celebrate all that it means to be Catholic. For children and adults with disabilities, it was an especially rich time to feel a part of the family. The Holy Father and all those planning his trip made it clear that we were not only welcome, but that we belonged. Opportunities were extended for a public witness in Washington and a private meeting in New York. Accommodations were made at both masses so that Catholics with assorted disabilities were able to be present and fully participate. In Washington, a selected group of young (and older) adults with disabilities represented us all as they processed with the gifts to the Holy Father waiting at the altar. To have been one of four groups symbolizing our Catholic community selected to bear these gifts was truly an honor and a recognition of our valued place in the family.

Watching Pope Benedict taking time to bless each child and greet family members and caregivers in the chapel at St. Joseph’s Seminary in New York was another graced moment. His words to the children and their families touched our hearts and gave us not only great hope but a sense of purpose: “God has blessed you with life, and with differing talents and gifts. Through these you are able to serve him and society in various ways. While some people’s contributions seem great and others’ more modest, the witness value of our efforts is always a sign of hope for everyone.” He went on to assure us of God’s love and that our lives do indeed hold purpose: “Sometimes it is challenging to find a reason for what appears only as a difficulty to be overcome or even pain to be endured…God’s unconditional love, which bathes every human individual, points to a meaning and purpose for all human life.” He concluded by exhorting us to pray for him and others each day and to “become bearers of [Christ’s] hope and charity for others.”

Prior to the Papal visit, families were calling the National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD) and the Archdiocese of Washington Office of Ministry for Persons with Disabilities directed by Peg Kolm, expressing their desire to share in the Holy Father’s visit. On April 16 families from Corpus Christi, TX and Chicago, IL joined local families and NCPD board members from Salt Lake City, Boston, and Columbus in a Witness to Pope Benedict. We celebrated liturgy, then made our way to a selected spot on the Holy Father’s procession route from the USCCB building up 4th St., NE to the Basilica, waiting expectantly with thousands of other eager pilgrims. The Ruiz family of Corpus Christi offered the following reflections on the witness: “Being invited was an incredible honor. The Mass was beautiful and I will forever remember the spiritual impact of our family celebrating Mass in D.C. while also waiting for the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI. Our family will be forever blessed to have shared this once in a lifetime experience within a very special community of families from across the nation, remembering with special thoughts always the many in our world like Aaron, Dayton and Larry. They are truly a light and a witness for all to feel the spiritual meaning of “Christ Our Hope.”

As part of our witness, we held a banner expressing our gratitude to Pope Benedict: Holy Father, thank you for valuing and defending our lives. NCPD board member Karen Murray, who directs the Office for People with Disabilities for the Archdiocese of Boston, explains the significance of our message, “As a lifelong Catholic with a disability, it is a highlight of my life to be here at this moment. I am here to express my joy and gratitude for all that the Holy Father has said and done to uphold and proclaim the dignity and worth of every human person. I thank him for his unwavering defense of life and pray that his message will be heard and received by everyone who hears it.”

Catholics with disabilities and their families from throughout the U.S. join with Karen to indeed thank Pope Benedict for his words of affirmation and hope, which have strengthened us and given us a renewed sense of purpose in living our faith as a witness to Christ’s unfailing love.

Janice L. Benton, SFO
Executive Director
National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD)
Participants with their banner.

As a National Review Board member, I was delighted with both the tone and content of Pope Benedict’s remarks on the sexual abuse crisis.

First of all, there was the expression of shame, first made on the flight to America and repeated several times. We are deeply ashamed, he said, of this gravely immoral behavior by priests who minister in our name and of our breach of trust with those we should have protected.

What should we do to respond? He told the bishops their first priority should be showing compassion and care to victims. And then he showed how it should be done – by listening to survivors in person. No bishop can ignore his example of meeting personally with victims. But the Church is not just bishops. All of us bear the shame and all of us should attend to healing by listening to survivors’ stories. That is the model pioneered so powerfully by Voice of the Faithful in Boston in 2002. Pope Benedict called on all of us to do that in his homily at Nationals Stadium.

Addressing the bishops, Benedict noted that the crisis had sometimes been very badly handled. To prevent more abuse, he specifically commended safe environment programs – a strong papal answer to those in the American Church who oppose that part of the Charter.

The Holy Father also asked us to look for deeper cultural causes of the crisis. Why did this outbreak of crime against children occur in our Church in our time? To answer that question, we must complete the Causes and Context Study promised in the Charter and now under way, but not yet fully funded. For a fraction of what the papal trip cost the American Church, we can completely fund that study.

Benedict emphasized the crisis calls for a “determined, collective response.” Let that be an answer to any bishop who insists on his right to “govern” his diocese while ignoring the Charter.

Most importantly, by returning to the crisis repeatedly, Pope Benedict reminded us that the pain of victims cannot be cured by wishful thinking. Each of us must reach out in pastoral concern to make healing happen. We are called to that task by our common baptism.

Judge Michael R. Merz
Chairman, National Review Board

In several talks and homilies during his recent pastoral visit to the United States, Pope Benedict related the theme “Christ, Our Hope” to the defense and promotion of human life.

At St. Patrick’s Cathedral, for example, Benedict emphasized that the Church and all its members are “called to proclaim the gift of life, to serve life, and to promote a culture of life. … The proclamation of life, life in abundance, must be the heart of the new evangelization. For true life—our salvation—can only be found in the reconciliation, freedom and love which are God’s gracious gift. “This,” he continued, “is the message of hope we are called to proclaim and embody.”

What obstacles have hampered Catholics in the United States in their struggles to build a culture of life? Pope Benedict explained that American secularism has led to a separation of faith from everyday life. And this tendency is “aggravated by an individualistic and eclectic approach to faith and religion,” so-called cafeteria Catholicism. Many are “living as if God did not exist.” So “rather than being transformed and renewed in mind [by our faith], Christians are easily tempted to conform themselves to the spirit of this age.” This, he added, is evidenced “in an acute way in the scandal given by Catholics who promote an alleged right to abortion” (Responses of His Holiness … to the Questions Posed by the Bishops, April 16).

We must allow ourselves to be transformed by our faith, which “helps us to break open the horizon beyond our own selves in order to see life as God does,” for “God’s unconditional love … points to a meaning and purpose for all human life” (Meeting with Young People Having Disabilities, St. Joseph’s seminary, April 19). Christian truths—that every human is created in God’s image and loved and redeemed by God, “alone can guarantee respect for the inalienable dignity and rights of each man, woman and child in our world—including the most defenseless of all human beings, the unborn child in the mother’s womb” (Homily at Mass in Yankee Stadium, April 20). In and through Christ, our Hope, we can renew the call to all Americans to a greater respect and love for each unique human life—from conception through natural death.

Susan Wills
Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

At every venue where I experienced Pope Benedict’s presence in New York, the spirit was electric. From the exuberance of the 57,000 faithful at Yankee Stadium to the quieter, but just as enthusiastic, response of clergy, religious and laity at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the atmosphere was filled with joy.

In Yankee Stadium, I joined hundreds of other priests, to concelebrate Mass with the Pope. It was an enormous privilege for me to represent our archdiocese and to greet the Holy Father personally at the conclusion of Mass. I particularly appreciated the ways the Bicentennial dioceses were honored and celebrated.

I was moved by the Holy Father’s homily at St. Patrick’s Cathedral when he called for a new Pentecost, a new spring for the Church in America. At the end of Mass, he spoke without notes, expressing his appreciation, love and support for us and asking for our prayers to help him fulfill his obligations as successor of Peter.

Reflecting on the Papal visit, I am struck by what a wonderful pastor Pope Benedict is. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he was well known for his scholarship. But his ministry and words in America have highlighted his great love for his Catholic family.

Very Reverend Richard M. Erikson, Ph.D., V.G.
Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia
Archdiocese of Boston
From left to right: Fr. Arthur Coyle; Brother Jim Peterson, OFM Cap; Fr. Richard Erikson; Sr. Marian Batho, CSJ, all of the Archdiocese of Boston, outside St. Patrick’s Catedral, April 19, 2008 (Photo courtesy of Father Erikson)