Pope’s visit marks historic event

By Helena Rodriguez: CNJ Columnist

Here’s another great reason to countdown to April 15. Besides it being Tax Day on Tuesday — whoopie — and Mom’s birthday — hooray — it’s also the day Pope Benedict XVI arrives in the United States.

For B-16, this will be his first visit to the United States as pope and it will be the first papal visit to the U.S. since his predecessor, our beloved Pope John Paul II (JPII), came in 1999. Next week will also mark the first papal visit to this country since Sept. 11, 2001.

What does the Pope’s historic visit mean for Catholics and non-Catholics? What does it mean for a country still recovering from the wounds of 9-11 and yet fully immersed in a divisive and never-ending war in Iraq? For a country divided on humanistic issues such as immigration and abortion and caught up in an economic and even spiritual crisis?

He will, no doubt, be given star treatment as he rides around in his Pope Mobile. Cameras will be rolling from the minute his plane lands at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, where he will be met by President and Mrs. Bush.

B-16’s visit will be historic as well as uniting, encouraging, and perhaps even a little uncomfortable, in a wake-up-call kind of way.

I’ve read commentaries comparing him to his predecessor, JPII, who is on the fast-track to sainthood. B-16 doesn’t have the same charisma, personal touch and media savvy, some of the things that made JPII a celebrity, according to a Newsday.com article.

Despite what B-16 allegedly has or doesn’t have, one thing he will have during his visit is our attention. During his five-day stay, he will meet with representatives of other religions on several occasions, including meeting with Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and leaders of other faiths. He will travel to New York where he will address the United Nations on Friday. During his final day in the U.S., The Holy Father will visit Ground Zero at the World Trade Center site, and then hold a solemn pontifical Mass at Yankee Stadium, an event expected to draw 100,000 people, similar to the crowds JPII drew in 1979.

He will also meet with representatives of Catholic colleges and universities and schools, bishops, priests, deacons and seminarians, to talk about issues facing the church as well as faith renewal efforts. It will be the first papal visit since the church sex abuse scandal.

In this month’s Catholic Digest, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “The upcoming visit by Pope Benedict XVI will give New Yorkers of all faiths the chance to welcome him with the same outpouring of joy and reverence that we showed to John Paul II. His visit, which will be during the Easter season, will be an inspiring spiritual event for Catholics, and it will touch the lives of New Yorkers of all faiths.”
I think his visit will touch the lives of all Americans.

The pope’s visit to the U.S. was prompted, in part, by an invitation to speak at the United Nations. At the United Nations, the Holy See has traditionally been given the right to speak, but not vote.

In a Newsday.com story, Tom Reese, a fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., said, “This pope wants to speak to the world and the U.N. is the place to do it.” B-16 will be the third pontiff in history to address the U.N.

The pope is expected to touch on issues related to the presidential election, poverty, the war in Iraq, abortion and euthanasia, gay marriage, environmental degradation and illegal immigration.

As the countdown to B-16’s arrival gets closer to the big day, brace yourself for a thought-provoking week in American history. B-16 will be embraced by Americans with the same warmth as JPII, but with the knowledge that he is not JPII. I’ve already seen T-shirts that read, “I love my German shepherd!”

Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom New Mexico. She can be reached at: helena_rodriguez@link.freedom.com