The National Catholic Review
The late Thomas Clarke SJ once suggested to me that one of the most important questions we should ask in our quest for understanding is,"What time is it?" I’ve been thinking about Tom’s comment as Pope Benedict XVI begins his first visit as pontiff to the United States), and remembering the first visit of Pope John Paul II in 1979. I was then working at the USCCB and the atmosphere was thick with protocol, secret service agents, and trying to work the system for tickets to the Mass on the Mall. But what is most vividly present to my memory is the sense of freedom. There were no permanent barricades, no Dept. of Homeland Security. Ordinary people lined Constitution Avenue (no tickets required) to see the white clad visitor as he stood in an open car, arms outstretched, in a gesture of embrace not only for his flock but for all of the nation. Later in the afternoon I attended a concert on the White House lawn (courtesy of a friend in the Carter administration) and witnessed John Paul and President Jimmy Carter descending a staircase, arms around each other like true friends, before the strains of Dvorak’s New World Symphony began. You could taste hope in the autumn air. That was before the attempted assassinations on John Paul and President Reagan, and before the trauma of 9/11. A different time, indeed. Benedict comes to a nation--to Washington DC--in the throes of an endless war, an increasingly shaky economy,and divisions over immigration. The poor are hidden. He also comes to a church that has managed to survive the earthquake of the clergy sexual abuse scandal and initial incompetence of many bishops in the face of the crisis. Judging by his early comments the Pope seems to understand our need for truthful, courageous, authentic leaders who trust the people. We can only hope the leaders (church and state) are listening. But, are the people listening? To really listen we will need to discard the stereotype of "the Cardinal Enforcer of Doctrine" and try to be, ourselves, authentic and trusting, as well as intelligent in distinguishing reality from illusion. Benedict comes to the nation’s capital as a pastor. Let him speak about peace and justice, forgiveness and reconciliation for both church and state. The poet Jessica Powers says that to catch the stirring of the Spirit one has to lean. In other words to get out of our pre-constructed boxes. What time is it? Certainly not the age of innocence. Hopefully a time of truthfulness and realistic hope. Dolores Leckey

Comments

Anonymous | 4/16/2008 - 4:36pm
From what I have read, I am delighted that the Pope shares with our President, the view of a great America. Both men seek a common ground, both men have sought some charity for the immigrants plight, and both men have a belief in God and their fellow man to achieve Jesus' goals. God bless them.