Pope Benedict's first visit to the United States has been extraordinary and inspiring. When he was elected three years ago, many observers wondered how long it would take for him to step out of the shadow of his friend and predecessor, Pope John Paul II. I remember reading such comments as: "Brilliant theologian but not as charismatic as Pope John Paul."
Not charismatic? After three years, Pope Benedict clearly enjoys his role as our Universal Shepherd. Look at his smiling face as he waves to the crowds from the Popemobile. See how he reaches out to people to shake their hands and kiss their babies as he walks down church aisles. He even surprised a group of Catholic school children by walking up to bless them as they sang "Happy Birthday" to him on a Washington street.
The Holy Father's ease with the crowds is delightful to see, but even more important is how he has backed this up with substance. At the United Nations he spoke eloquently on the need for greater human rights and economic justice for "all times and all peoples," as well as for greater shared decision-making in the international community. He visited a New York synagogue at the beginning of Passover to extend the Catholic Church's friendship to our Jewish brethren. He encouraged and challenged Catholic educators in an address filled with intellectual depth. At his papal liturgy in Washington, he acknowledged the growing presence of the Hispanic church in America by speaking in Spanish.
Most impressive of all, Pope Benedict has taken care to address the priest sex abuse scandal, speaking almost daily about the shame and the hurt that it has brought to the Church. He has not swept it under the rug, pretending that it did not happen. His private meeting with several of the victims was apparently an inspiring moment of reconciliation that moved the participants to tears and to the beginning of peace.
The Pope has a unique role and ministry to the world. Yes, he is the Vicar of Christ to the world's 1 billion Catholics, but he is also the voice of conscience and morality on the international stage. When the Pope speaks, the leaders of the world listen. Let us continue to pray for Pope Benedict, for his safe travel and for the continued blessing of his papal ministry.
Ubi caritas, est vera, est vera,
Deus ibi est. Deus ibi est.
- Bob Hurd
Translation: Where there is true charity, God is present.
(Sung at Papal Mass)
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