A Pontifical Farewell

In typical NAC fashion, "anything worth doing is worth over-doing." Thus, an improvised procession with American and Vatican flags down the Janiculum Hill to St. Peter's Square for today's papal audience wasn't really too far-fetched. At least the pope noticed!

In just a couple of days, the Holy Father will set out upon his long-awaited visit to the United States of America. While no one is really and precisely sure what the Holy Father will choose to talk about during his American sojourn—not even Archibishop Pietro Sambi, the Apostolic Nuncio to the US—there’s certainly no doubting that Benedict will use this visit as a platform to boldly challenge Catholics and non-Catholics alike. While some reporters have been sticking with the traditional themes of “peace,” “justice” and “healing,” other have proposed that in fact the Pontiff will submit an entirely new teaching during the course of his time abroad. Obviously, the balance is somewhere in the middle; presenting the truth always requires an equilibrium between sticking with what people already know and pushing them to consider that reality in a new light, from a new angle. If I had to make a guess at what the pope will be focusing on, that would be it.

As for the more specific addresses he is scheduled to deliver, a few rank right at the top in terms of significance. Certainly, the Mass homilies in both New York and Washington will provide the cornerstones of the entire visit, since he’ll have his biggest crowds by far at these two events. The address to the United Nations will probably come in at a close second as far as notability goes, and will likely focus on humanitarian efforts, as well as the ever-debated war in Iraq, which has thus far claimed the lives of a number of Catholic clerics and countless Catholic faithful; this is a matter very close to Benedict’s heart. Nevertheless, the speech I am most interested to hear—and which I think will subsequently provide the most ‘entertainment,’ for lack of a better word—is the Holy Father’s scheduled address to the presidents of the two-hundred-and-some Catholic universities in the United States. Speaking to the assembly in Washington D.C., I think the pope’s background as a professor and his deep appreciation for learning and holiness will spark an instigating speech, and probably fuel a heated and ongoing dialogue amidst Catholic intellectuals for some time. That’s just me though…we’ll see.

In the end, the same thing always happens: the pope comes, people get excited—the pope leaves and the excitement wanes. Ultimately, the lasting effect of a papal visit comes from those who take his words and actions seriously, both Catholics and non-Catholics alike, and who work toward the goals that he presents. Pope Benedict is clearly a man of great personal holiness and incredible wisdom and charity. I believe that only good can come out of this trip, and the task will be for us to recognize that good and run with it. The world is most notably broken in these days, and now is a wonderful chance for us to pick up a few of the pieces and start building up the City of God.