By Fr. George Welzbacher
April 27, 2008
"God Bless America!" Those words, affirmed with a radiant smile, rang out at the beginning and at the end of Pope Benedict's triumphant visit to the United States. Indeed in the course of his six-day "Journey of Hope" our Holy Father showed on multiple occasions his love for all that is good in our beloved country. And the outpouring of love that he awakened in response was nothing short of spectacular, an overwhelming display of affection from the young, the middle-aged and the old: from the thousands who thronged to the White House lawn to reinforce the President's enthusiastic words of welcome to His Holiness and from the tens of thousands (a mere fraction of those who had sought tickets for admission) who filled Washington National Park and Yankee Stadium for the open-air papal Masses; from the grateful parents in Yonkers whose severely afflicted children were blessed individually by Benedict and from the gracious Chief Rabbi (a Holocaust survivor) and his distinguished congregants (including former New York Mayor Ed Koch) at the Park East Synagogue on Manhattan's Upper East Side; from the jubilant seminarians and other young people at Dunwoody and from the crowds that lined the streets along the "Popemobile's" scheduled routes; from nationally prominent public officials and the delegates and staff of the United Nations-warrnth and enthusiasm were everywhere in evidence from beginning to end of his visit, right up to the eloquent farewell offered by Vice-President Cheney on behalf of the nation just a few minutes before "Shepherd One", the thus denominated Alitalia 737, began slowly to move down the runway at JFK International Airport bringing Pope Benedict's visit to a close. Anyone who had thought that this humble and self-effacing scholar-tumed-pontiff might come off as a distant second to his great predecessor in terms of eliciting enthusiasm from enormous crowds quickly saw reason to think again.
In retrospect it would be difficult to select a single defining moment as the highlight of his trip, given the profusion of images, some unforgettable, from so many significant venues. But one such moment might assert itself with particular force. I am referring to the thunderous roar of approval that erupted from Yankee Stadium's 60,000 participants in the New York outdoors Mass as Pope Benedict declared that Christians must be tireless in bringing help to the helpless, including-with a rising intensity in Benedict's voice-"the most defenseless of all, the child in the womb"! Would that the politicians, self-described as Catholic, who promote abortion and then sacrilegiously present themselves for Holy Communion would take seriously this exhortation (and in effect this solemn warning) of "Peter among us"!
Among many unforgettable images were the enthusiastic smiles everywhere visible on the faces of young and old age and the standing ovation with prolonged applause offered by the General Assembly of the United Nations and, in response to the special recognition he had given to their work, the tumultuous affection shown by the often forgotten United Nations staff, the people behind the scenes both at UN headquarters and in the world's most troubled places who do the tedious, often dangerous and generally uncelebrated work that since the UN's founding has brought help to millions.
There was one event that quite properly was not televised: Pope Benedict's private meeting with representatives of the victims of clerical sexual abuse. In this meeting Pope Benedict showed profound compassion and offered his own apology for the way in which too many of his brother bishops had earlier dealt with, or rather had failed to deal with, this horrible betrayal. One sensed at that moment that Christ the Good Shepherd was reaching out with supportive love to the grievously wronged.
In the weeks ahead I hope to offer some of my own reflections on a number of themes in the multi-layered message that Pope Benedict brought to our shores. As one documentable example of the impact his visit has made on our separated brethren in the vast community of Christian believers may I offer here the off-the-cuff comments (and thus arguably comments all the more sincere) of a devout Methodist, America's currently designated spokesman in chief, the President of the United States, comments offered at a Catholic prayer breakfast held on Friday morning, April 18th. And following these comments, may I share with you one reporter's reaction to Pope Benedict's colloquy with America's Catholic bishops.
* * * * *
President Bush Lets His Love for the Pope Show at Catholic Prayer Breakfast.
By John-Henry Westen
Washington, April 18, 2008( LifeSiteNews.com)
President George W. Bush addressed the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast just after 8:30 this morning, in a speech filled with glowing references to Pope Benedict XVI: "It's not every day you get to be the warm-up act to the Holy Father," began the President jovially, referring to the fact that the guests would soon be viewing a live broadcast of the Pope's remarks to the United Nations.
"This has been a joyous week, " said the President, beaming and eliciting applause. "It's been a joyous time for Catholics-and it wasn't such a bad week for Methodists, either,"...he added. " The excitement was just palpable. The streets were lined with people that were so thrilled that the Holy Father was here. And it was such a privilege to welcome this good man to the United States."
The President seemed at a loss for words as he recalled his meeting with the Pope at the White House. "For those of you on the South Lawn-who saw the South Lawn ceremony live, it was-what an unbelievable-it was just such a special moment," he said. "And it was a special moment to be able to visit with the Holy Father in the Oval Office. He is a humble servant of God. He is a brilliant professor. He is a warm and generous soul."
The President specified the attributes which he appreciates in Benedict XVI. "He is courageous in the defense of fundamental truths. His Holiness believes that freedom is the Almighty's gift to every man, woman and child on earth. He understands that every person has value, or to use his words: 'each of us is willed, each of its is loved, each of us is necessary.'"
"The Holy Father strongly believes that [from him] to whom much is given much is required-and he is a messenger of God's call to love our neighbors as we'd like to be loved ourselves," said Bush.
As he has done on previous occasions, the President tied his own work to promote life to the Pope. "One of the blessings of being the President is I get to see firsthand how people are motivated by the fundamental truths articulated by the Holy Father," he said.
"Together, over nearly seven and a half years we've worked to uphold the dignity of human life. Over the last years, my administration has put a stop to U.S. tax dollars funding foreign groups that perform or promote abortions. We've worked together to protect unborn victims of violence, and to end the barbaric practice of partial-birth abortion. We have stoodfast in our belief that promising medical advances can co-exist with ethical medical practices."
The President also appealed to the Pope's stands as he enumerated his administration's work to promote Catholic education, religious freedom, and faith-based charity.
Bush concluded with heartfelt thanks for the prayers of Catholics for his Presidential mission and also by offering a prayer for the Pope.
"This is a prayer breakfast. And this is a perfect place for me to say how much I appreciate the prayers of the people for Laura and me. I can't thank our fellow citizens enough for taking time out of their lives to lift us up for prayer. I have finally begun to understand the story of the calm and the rough seas and I believe-and I believe in my heart of hearts-that it's because of the prayers of my fellow citizens," he said.
"And today with trust in the Lord's wisdom and goodness, I offer prayers of my own: for... the safety and success of the Holy Father's visit, and for God's continued blessings on our great land."
* * * * *Pope Decries the "Scandal Given by Catholics Who Promote an Alleged Right to Abortion". By John Henry Westen
Washington, DC, April 18, 2008 (LifeSiteNewscom).
At a Question and Answer session following Pope Benedict XVI's Wednesday address to the Bishops of the United States, he addressed the "particular problem" of secularism in America. While it allows profession of belief in God, it "can subtly reduce religious belief to a lowest common denominator," he said. Thus there is a separation "of faith from life: living 'as if God did not exist'."
The Pope noted that rather than "thinking with the Church", some Catholics believe they have "a right to pick and choose" in the faith, "maintaining external social bonds but without an integral, interior conversion to the law of Christ. "
"We have seen this emerge in an acute way in the scandal given by Catholics who promote an alleged right to abortion, " he lamented.
It is this internal betrayal by Catholics that seems to most deeply distress the Holy Father. Besides the much publicized cases of sexual abuse by priests ... the scandalous behavior of a majority of Catholics in political life also gives rise to the Pontiff's deep sadness. As he said in his homily at National Park Thursday, the Church "senses, often painfully, the presence of division and polarization in her midst, as well as the troubling realization that many of the baptized, rather than acting as a spiritual leaven in the world, are inclined to embrace attitudes contrary to the truth of the Gospel".... [Emphasis added].