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Archive for March, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI visits the United States in an election year with intense political cross-currents. Some commentators may see his journey of hope through a secular political lens. They may try to put his prophetic defense of human life from conception until natural death in a partisan context. They may hear appeals for peace as criticism of particular policies. They will look for hints as to which candidate or party the Holy Father sees as more in accord with Catholic teaching.  They may try to reduce this unprecedented Journey of Hope to a series of political statements

Those who look for partisan messages and political agendas misunderstand Benedict XVI.  His visit is not political, but pastoral. He comes to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not to support the platform of a political party. This is not politics as usual. His visit is a pastoral journey, a spiritual challenge and an opportunity to deliver a universal message of love, hope and peace at the United Nations. We should see this pilgrimage of hope with eyes of faith, not politics.

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Pope Benedict will meet with leaders of other Christian churches on April 18 at a special Vespers service at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on East 87th Street in New York.  Gatherings of this kind have become a regular feature of papal visits abroad, and recent popes have used them as a way of encouraging the building of ecumenical relationships among the various Christian churches on the national level. 

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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)

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       One of the best things to come from Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States will be that people will get to know him.

            There’s a lack of awareness of who he is for three reasons:

            He follows Pope John Paul II, who revolutionized the papacy. Before his election, the papacy had basically been a stay-at-home job. When John Paul with his fine stage presence set out globe-trotting, he captured the world’s imagination. With telecommunications, John Paul took the office public as no one before him. His is a hard act to follow.

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Not all popes are great theologians.  Yet the present Pontiff can rightly be considered one of the greatest theological minds to assume the Chair of Peter.

Prior to his election on April 19, 2005, Joseph Ratzinger looked forward to a retirement in which he could set to work on scholarly projects that had been placed on the “to do” list on account of his pastoral service to the Church in Germany (1977-1981) and then to the universal Church as chief doctrinal officer at the Vatican (1981-2005). The present Pope has always been at home in libraries and lecture halls where he has delved into historical and doctrinal problems that occupy members of the theological guild.  Although erudite in ancient and modern languages, and in all of the main currents of Catholic thought from the early centuries to the present, Pope Benedict XVI has always understood the theological craft to be in service to the faith of ordinary Christians.  At the end of a commentary he wrote on Vatican II, where he was an advisor to the bishops assembled in Rome for that historic Council (1962-1965), Father Ratzinger wrote: “In the final analysis the Church lives, in sad as well as joyous times, from the faith of those who are simple of heart.” 

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Pope Benedict XVI clearly puts care for the poor at the heart of the Catholic Church. In his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), he said three things make the Church the Church: Proclaiming the Gospel, celebrating the Sacraments and caring for the poor. This love of the poor is an essential and defining activity of the Church. Benedict declares, “Love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind is as essential to her [the Church] as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel. The church cannot neglect the service of charity anymore than she can neglect the sacraments and the word” (#22).

This emphatic call is an extension of the great commandment to love our neighbor. In fact, Pope Benedict insists: “Love of God and love of neighbor have become one: In the least of the brethren we find Jesus himself, and in Jesus we find God.”  And, our neighbor is anyone who needs our help and whom we can help (#15).  In this encyclical, the pope states that today loving our neighbor has global dimensions since we see and respond to people’s struggles and needs almost instantaneously .(#30).

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Like Peter, Benedict is Today’s Rock

Catholics recognize that when Pope Benedict XVI comes to our country he does so as the successor of St. Peter. As Peter was chosen to be the head of the first Apostles and chief shepherd of the newly born Church, so Pope Benedict is the head of the Apostolic College, that is, the head of all the bishops throughout the world who are in communion with him. As such, he is also the chief shepherd and supreme pastor of the entire Church.

When Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was, it was Peter who responded without any hesitancy. He clearly professed: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” In turn, Jesus did not hesitate to tell Peter: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” Notice that Jesus first tells Peter that he is “blessed.” Peter is blessed because he knows the truth of who Jesus is as the anointed Son of God. Moreover, this blessing did not come from some human source but by revelation directly from Jesus’ heavenly Father. It was the Father himself, through the Holy Spirit, who revealed to Peter that Jesus was his eternal Son. It is precisely because of this divine revelation and Peter’s profession of it that Jesus continued to say to him: “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:16-18). (more…)

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