Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the USA
By Archbishop John Vlazny
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This month, April 15 to 20, Pope Benedict XVI will make his first apostolic visit to the United States of America. The theme for his visit is “Christ Our Hope.” It’s a timely theme, given the release back on Nov. 30 of his encyclical on Christian hope. The Pope stated that, “without faith in God, the human family lies at the mercy of ideologies that can lead to the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice.” He also warned that our modern era seems to be replacing belief in eternal salvation with faith in progress and technology, which offer opportunities for good but also open up “appalling possibilities for evil.” The core of the papal message then as it will be during the time of his visit, remains “man needs God, otherwise he remains without hope.”
Enthusiasm is mounting in our nation’s capital for the coming visit of the Holy Father. When I attended some meetings with my brother bishops in Washington last month, a number of people approached me to ask if I was going to return for the papal visit. There are more Catholics, of course, in DC, and, as a result of the Pope’s visit, there are also undoubtedly more “wannabe” Catholics there than there are here. The Pope’s trip will take him not only to Washington but also to New York.
The visit is officially designated a visit to the United States. Out here on the west coast we might very well feel excluded by the selection of those two cities for his stay. But Washington is our nation’s capital. The President plans to greet the Pope upon his arrival and also to welcome him to the White House. Pope Benedict is going to New York in order to address the United Nations as have his predecessors in the past. He will also participate in the 200th anniversary celebration of the first American metropolitan province when Baltimore became an archdiocese and New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Bardstown were established as suffragan sees.
The pope will be arriving on Tuesday, April 15. The next day he will visit the White House and join the bishops of the United States for a private prayer service and meeting in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Naturally we bishops are wondering what he has to tell us. He called for this meeting. We didn’t!
On Thursday, April 17, Pope Benedict will celebrate the Eucharist in the new Washington Nationals (baseball team) Park. There will be some representatives from our archdiocese at that Mass, including a couple of our priests and me. Later that day the Holy Father will meet with the heads of the more than two hundred Catholic colleges and universities in our country and the superintendents from our 195 Catholic dioceses. This gathering will take place on the campus of the Catholic University of America. Our Superintendent of Catholic Schools, Robert Mizia, will be there. Later that evening the Pope will be meeting with Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Jews and representatives of other religions at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center.
Friday morning, April 18, Pope Benedict travels to New York and there he will address the United Nations. In the evening there will be a prayer service for leaders of other Christian denominations at St. Joseph’s Church, founded by German Catholics, in Manhattan.
Saturday morning, April 19, there will be a Mass for priests, deacons and members of religious orders at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on New York’s Fifth Avenue. That afternoon the Holy Father will meet with young Catholics, including fifty youngsters with a range of disabilities, at St. Joseph Seminary in Yonkers. There will be a huge gathering of young people, including hundreds of seminarians, to participate in this rally/prayer service and to hear the Pope speak.
On his final day in the USA, Pope Benedict will visit Ground Zero, the site of the Sept. 11, 2001 disaster at the World Trade Centers. That afternoon there will be a Mass at Yankee Stadium to bring the visit to a close. Then, around 8 p.m., Shepherd One, the Pope’s chartered Alitalia plane, takes off from JFK airport and heads back to the Eternal City.
During his visit, Pope Benedict XVI will observe a couple of significant personal anniversaries. April 16 will be his 81st birthday. April 19 commemorates the third anniversary of his election as bishop of Rome. Ordained a priest back in 1951, he served as an academician, teaching dogma and fundamental theology for many years until his appointment as Archbishop of Munich in 1977. In 1981 he became the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a position now held by my predecessor, Cardinal William Levada. He was the guiding light on matters of doctrine during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II. Benedict is our 265th Pope and the first German Pope in 948 years.
The first Pope ever to visit the United States was Paul VI in October, 1965. Pope John Paul came to the United States seven times during his papacy. I still recall his visit to Chicago back in 1979, my first year as pastor of St. Aloysius Church there. His final visit took place in 1999 after a trip to Latin America when he came to St. Louis. President Bush will not be the first President to greet a successor of St. Peter on our home turf. President Carter was the first, followed by President Reagan, President G.W. Bush and President Clinton.
Some folks wonder how the German Pope is doing in Rome. After all, his predecessor from Poland attracted all kinds of visitors to the Eternal City. Well, some 2.8 million people took part in events with Pope Benedict in Rome during 2007. Those numbers are the highest ever for any pontiff. With more than one billion Catholics across the globe, he obviously shoulders considerable responsibilities for the spiritual well-being of all and for our church’s fidelity to her evangelizing mission. Pope Benedict is regarded as an excellent theologian and teacher. He has already published two major encyclicals, one on love and one on hope. His best-selling book, Jesus of Nazareth, is truly a labor of love wherein he speaks out quite personally about his own search for the face of Jesus.
Please join me in praying for the success of our Pope’s apostolic visit. In the homily at his inaugural Mass in 2005, Pope Benedict asked for our prayers in these words, “Pray for me, that I may learn to love the Lord more and more. Pray for me, that I may learn to love his flock more and more. Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves. Let us pray for one another, that the Lord will carry us and that we will learn to carry one another.”
Need I say more?
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