This week marks the first time that Joseph Ratzinger will visit the United States as Pope Benedict XVI. Many faithful American Catholics have longed for the Holy Father to address our problems, not the least of which is a pervasive attitude of selective faith, which is no doubt the result of poor stewardship by some U.S. bishops. Some indeed had hoped his visit, long in the works, would be prefaced with a “don’t make me come over there” message and, in a way, it was.
Last year’s Motu Proprio on the Latin Mass — which allows priests to celebrate that rite without the consent of their bishops — sent a message to those bishops that he would go over their heads if necessary to restore order. It is interesting that he will be meeting with all of the U.S. bishops as well as 200 heads of Catholic universities and colleges; in other words, those primarily responsible for the formation of the faithful. Of all the addresses and homilies he will deliver on our shores, these will probably be of most interest to serious Catholics.
There has been much speculation as to the message the Pope will bring to all the citizens of this country, and to the world via his address at the United Nations. Most of our mainstream media have naturally focused on the pontiff’s objections to the Iraq War and expect him to deal harshly with President Bush who will meet him at Andrews Air force Base.
Yet despite the Pope’s understandable aversion to the war, one would think that this airport meeting will be a tad less uncomfortable for this president than the one between his predecessor and Pope John Paul II, when that pontiff chided Bill Clinton on abortion in 1993.
IT IS NOTEWORTHY that the president granted a rare interview to EWTN, the Catholic TV network. When asked by interviewer Raymond Arroyo what he saw when he looked into the eyes of the Pope, he quickly answered, “God.”
In some ways President Bush, a Methodist, is a better Catholic than many actual Catholics in Washington. After all, in addition to his commitment to the poor in Africa and elsewhere, he is in agreement with the Church on its five “non-negotiable” issues: abortion, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, euthanasia, and homosexual “marriage.”
Compare his record on these issues with “cradle” Catholic congressmen like Pat Leahy, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, or Nancy Pelosi. Then consider the following letter to Cardinal McCarrick, former Archbishop of Washington DC, entitled “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion,” written by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2004:
Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.
Bush and Benedict also share concerns on radical Islam, though their methods differ. The Holy Father will be visiting Ground Zero, and many are upset over reports that he will pray for the conversion of those behind the attacks of 9/11.
He will demonstrate that the commands of Jesus Christ to love our enemies and pray for those who hate us, are not just empty platitudes. He will ask God: “Turn to Your way of love, those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred.”
THERE ARE THOSE who feel these words will — if possible — further inflame the world of radical Islam. Just this week, Hamas MP and cleric, Yunis Al-Astal, declared: “Very soon, Allah willing, Rome will be conquered, just like Constantinople was, as was prophesized by our Prophet Muhammad…This capital of theirs will be an advanced post for the Islamic conquests, which will spread through Europe in its entirety, and then will turn to the two Americas, and even Eastern Europe.”
Yet while Islamist hopes of stabling their horses in St. Peter’s Basilica persist, last month at the Easter Vigil there, the pope personally baptized Magdi Allam, an outspoken critic of both Muslim extremism and Islam itself, and welcomed him into the Catholic Church; much to the dismay of Islamists everywhere. Agree or disagree with President Bush on his military approach to the War on Terror, but this is a Pope who is truly battling evil with the “armor of God.”
Pope Benedict’s first encyclical was entitled, “God is Love,” while his second was “Saved By Hope.” Taken together and lived out in faith, can there be a better message to a nation where many are drowning in materialism, moral uncertainty and despair?
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