His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI is safely back working in the Vatican after what from nearly all reports was one major triumphant visit to the United States April 15 through 20 in Washington DC and New York.
Benedict XVI’s Visit Dispels Many Misconceptions about Him
Opposition to his visit was negligible, and while some complained that the security was too tight and the Holy Father couldn’t mingle with the crowds, the venues themselves were well-managed and orderly, and his talks were all memorable.
What impressed many of us was his way of dispelling the general fear that he would not be popular with the youth. While his popularity is not the same kind Pope John Paul II elicited, his outreach to today’s youth was just as spontaneous and sincere, and this close tie will no doubt grow as he spends more time with them, such as at the gathering in Australia this summer, as they become more familiar with his style of charisma.
As one secular reporter, Cathleen Falsani of the Chicago Sun-Times, put it, Benedict is more of a German shepherd than a Rottweiler. His considerable appeal to the secular press is phenomenal. Falsani, who was in St. Peter’s Square at his election, says in her April 22 column that when Cardinal Ratzinger appeared on the balcony as the new pope, an audible groan greeted him.
Some people began calling him Papa Nazi for his joining the Hitler Youth during World War II. Some fear of this new pope was based on his reputation as an austere, hyper-conservative, strict adherent of Church law, with a long history as the Pope’s enforcer of Catholic doctrine.
They presumed that he would be cerebral, cold and cheerless, or what Falsani calls “his perceived lack of personality”, a reputation he had established during the long reign of Pope John Paul II.
During his three years as Supreme Pontiff, despite his encyclicals and writings on love and hope and prayer, this attitude persisted in America, right up until his visit last week. But when Benedict appeared on the local scene, all that changed.
Americans Have Many Reasons to Love Pope Benedict
During his visit Americans came in touch with the a gentle, kind, sincere man with the soft voice and the thick German accent, and by all accounts they began to love him. Especially enthusiastic were the youth whom many thought could never be satisfied with any Pope who followed John Paul II.
Americans loved him because he so obviously loves us, and clearly believes we have a major role to play in reclaiming world order. The press loved him for talking frankly about the Priest Scandal and apologizing for it. Youth loved him for challenging them to be better people, take their calling form God seriously, and for recognizing their deep thoughts, strong convictions and genuine desire to be good. New Yorkers loved him for memorializing their great loss on 9/11, and for visiting the holy ground where so many New Yorkers died, including many of New York’s finest.
Impressive Responses to Pope’s Visit from Secular Media
Having worked with a hostile, often anti-religious and secular press for thirty-five years, I couldn’t help but be impressed with some of their positive responses to Pope Benedict.
Kathleen Parker says it is probably good for a selfish society like ours to have a stubborn Pope in a world of moral relativity, like a strong father who ignores his children’s pleas for leniency knowing that his rules, though tough, serve a higher purpose. She asks how we reconcile what is true with what is merely convenient.
I nearly passed out reading Neil Steinberg’s column, “Proud of the Pope”, where he says the Pope did the right thing by addressing the priest abuse scandal—they all liked that—and the Catholic Church for having been around to preserve the classical heritage during the Dark Ages and to solace the peons of Bolivia today. He thinks the Pope did a good thing coming to America, and that’s a lot coming from Neil Steinberg. For once we have to agree with him.
Even Richard Roeper, while not having much good to say about the Pope or the Catholic Church in his April 23 column, at least refutes Bill Maher’s charge that the Pope advocated a coverup of the sex scandal when in fact the Vatican document he is referring to is from 1962 and dealt with solicitation in the confessional.
Roeper sort of defends an observation of Bill O’Reilly that other religions would not be criticized as roundly as Catholicism is, but that the Catholic Church is up to handling criticism.
Most of the columns and editorials we read indicated that the media were impressed with Pope Benedict XVI. For that we give thanks. We hope it lasts.