He was reviled as the CEO of pedophiles. He was called outrageous names: a hypocrite, a jester, and a personification of Satan. But Pope Benedict XVI, the supreme shepherd of a billion Catholics worldwide came to USA on April 15-20, 2008 with a message of hope, love and reconciliation for all—-something we all need in a world of growing pluralism, relativism, and uncertainty.
Starting his six-day pastoral trip in Washington DC, Pres. George Bush and wife Laura warmly greeted him on his arrival. On the second day, the 265th successor of St. Peter celebrated part of his 81st birthday on the White House’s south lawn where he was feted with an understated, but beautiful piece of Americana.
As the leader of the sovereign state, the Holy See, Pope Benedict XVI brought to the United Nations (with 192 member-countries) his message of goodwill and peace. Almost shy in his speech and careful not to prescribe any political agenda, he talked on the responsibility of nations to respect human rights and the need for mutual respect in matters of religious worship.
Meeting privately with a few victims of sexual abuse by clergymen, he was forthright in talking about the scandal which he rightly believed to be a shameful “betrayal of trust” whose wounds needed purgation and healing.
He offered his thoughts on diverse, but complex problems such as the attrition of church-goers, the tepid response of people towards religious vocations, and the increasing needs of the Hispanics, the fastest growing ethnic group in American Catholicism.
He met with disabled children and their caregivers. On several occasions, the pope touched on the dignity of the individual human person, the horrors of abortion and violence, and the culture of materialism which “chokes the soul.”
In Ground Zero where 3,000 innocent lives were lost in a horrific act of hatred in 9/11, the pope prayed. He spoke with the victims’ relatives, expressing his hope for healing, forgiveness, and redemption.
As an act of ecumenism, he visited a Jewish synagogue and met with leaders of various denominations. The pope repeatedly touched on themes of truth, the rejection of relativism, and the call on the faithful to live up their faith openly in society. In a church gathering at the center of the city, he said,
“The spires of St. Patrick’s Cathedral are dwarfed by the skyscrapers of the Manhattan skyline, yet in the heart of this busy metropolis they are a vivid reminder of the constant yearning of the human spirit to rise to God.”
In measured words, the pope gently reached out to the hearts of millions who watched him in person and in TV, with the conciliatory “springtime of hope” message for Americans whose religious warmth today, he noted, is stronger compared to Europeans.
At Yankee’s stadium, Pope Benedict XVI said a solemn mass for a huge cheering crowd of 58,000, representing the 62 million Catholics across America (1/3 of USA’s Christians,) reiterating his core message of hope in Jesus Christ. He saw the church’s future in the thousands of visibly-joyful seminarians and young men and women who affectionately greeted him with chants, sacred music, and flags.
The visit ended on Sunday with a brief farewell in a well-secured hangar in JFK airport before boarding, Shepherd One, a chartered plane of Alitalia. In a remark which was cordial and pleasing, Vice President Dick Cheney asked the pontiff to pray for America. Isn’t this what we all need?
Thousand miles away, in the Philippines, the same message of the pope applies. Just like America, we have the same parallel problems and the same need to reconcile humbly with God. We surely need truth, hope, and justice to actualize our do-list of our faith. But truly, it remains to be seen whether the pope’s message will bring lasting effects in our spiritual lives.
“Christ is our hope” is a compelling message for all, particularly in times when we find ourselves groping in the dark for truth, when we seem lost on the way, when we need light so we can come out of confusion and uncertainty which engulf us. ==0==