Fr. Neuhaus on "The Papal Week That Was"
Fr. Richard John Neuhaus writes at the First Things blog:
Triumphalism, as we all know, is a very bad thing. On the other hand, defeatism is worse. In any event, I am persuaded that the apostolic visit just completed was a triumph. As is probably evident from my earlier postings on the visit, as well as some of my comments on EWTN, I was not sure about that before the visit got underway, nor was I at all sure during the first days in Washington.(emphasis and editorial commentary added)
The theme that Benedict chose for the visit was “Christ Our Hope.” That determinedly Christocentric focus was sustained through these days. Permit me a brief word on the several events. The first was not on the official program. It was the news conference on the plane coming over. The first question, not surprisingly, was about the sex abuse crisis. Benedict’s response might be described in other contexts as a preemptive strike. By addressing the question so directly and candidly, and then doing that again in following days, he decisively put to rest all the speculation about how he would handle the matter, or whether he would touch it at all.
Of particular importance in this connection was the meeting with the five victims of priestly sexual abuse. That occasion was reminiscent of John Paul the Great’s meeting in jail with the man who tried to assassinate him in 1981. The authenticity of the encounter, Benedict’s listening, holding hands with the five one by one, and praying with them was powerful. This was movingly confirmed by the victims who spoke about the meeting afterward.
A moment of historic importance was the magnificent reception at the White House the morning after the pope’s arrival. The administration pulled out all the stops in a symbolic act of closure in the country’s tangled history of anti-Catholicism — or at least of suspicion about the place of Catholicism in our common life. Beyond that, it was a striking response to the larger question of what someone has called the naked public square — public life devoid of religion and religiously grounded moral discernment. In the concluding Mass in Yankee Stadium, Benedict spoke of the “false dichotomy” between Christian faith and the public square, as he did also in his address at the United Nations in New York. His several statements underscored the powerful symbolism of the White House reception. The image of the president [ED.: a Southern evangelical, no less, who obviously greatly admires and respects the Holy Father] and the pope on the South Lawn, along with what each said, deserves a prominent place in any honest history of the Republic.
The brief visit to the Park East synagogue on the eve of Passover will be long remembered by the Jewish community. It was the first such visit by a pope on American soil, and the tone was that of a friendly neighbor dropping in to wish Shalom for his Jewish friends. Like the brief meeting with Jewish leaders following the interreligious gathering in Washington, the visit highlighted the unique relationship between Christianity and Judaism. It deserves to be long remembered also by Christians.
God only knows what difference this apostolic visit will make in the long run. Finally, we all rely on the promise of Isaiah 55 that “the word will not return void.” There is no doubt that the word of “Christ Our Hope” has been delivered with uncompromised clarity and persuasiveness. Benedict did what good pastors do. He encouraged, taught, and, where necessary, corrected. It was by any pertinent measure a triumph. The papal week that was, I feel confident, will continue to be with us for a very long time.
As I watched the Holy Father's departure ceremony last night, I found myself not wanting his apostolic journey to our nation to end. Following the takeoff of the Pope's plane, I continued to watch re-broadcasts of the day's events just to keep the feeling of his presence on American soil alive in my heart. During these last few days, I've never been prouder to be a Catholic and an American - and I felt that sentiment most profoundly during the welcoming reception that the Holy Father received last week at the White House. The Pope has truly blessed us with his visit.
During a phone conversation last night, my father, who is not Catholic, said "I've been watching a lot of the coverage; the Pope certainly is an impressive man."
Yes, he certainly is. Viva il Papa!