As we begin to reflect on the impact of the Pope’s visit to our country, the thoughts of George Weigel—Pope John Paul II’s official biographer—should be helpful.
Pope brought America new perceptions and challenging ideas, says George Weigel
Washington DC, Apr 26, 2008 / 09:04 am (CNA).-
As Pope Benedict XVI’s presence and words linger with Americans, George Weigel is offering his analysis of last week’s trip in an article for Newsweek. The Pope, Weigel says, not only managed to deftly change the false perceptions of many, but also delivered words of challenging wisdom to Americans.
“From his first moments at Andrews Air Force Base,” Weigel begins, “it was clear that this was no hard-edged theological enforcer, no Rottweiler. Instead of the cartoon Ratzinger, America was introduced to a modest, friendly man, a grandfatherly Bavarian with exquisite manners and a shock of unruly white hair, full of affection and admiration for the United States.”
This changed perception of Benedict XVI was also accompanied by the crumbling of any anti-Catholic prejudice on behalf of the U.S. government, Weigel writes.
“Now, an evangelical Texas Methodist pulled out all the ceremonial stops to welcome the Bishop of Rome on the south lawn of the White House – and the Bishop of Rome, a former American POW, could be seen singing the refrain of the 'Battle Hymn of the Republic' along with the U.S. Army choir.”
The change in the perception of Pope Benedict changed within the Church too, says Weigel. “The transformation of the papal image was complete when Benedict XVI surprised everyone (including many senior churchmen) by meeting privately for conversation and prayer with five Boston-area victims of clergy sexual abuse.”
According to Weigel, this transformative chapter began even before the Pontiff landed on American soil. “On the flight to America, the Pope had forthrightly seized control of this issue, speaking of his own ‘shame’ over the behavior of priests who had abused the young; he later acknowledged the parallel and related disgrace of bishops who had failed in their duty to protect the flock."
"Still, it took that meeting with those who had suffered at the hands of something both they and he loved – the Catholic Church – to drive home the point that Benedict XVI was not just a friendly scholar. By meeting, praying, and, by all accounts, crying with those who had been deeply hurt, Benedict made unmistakably plain what those who had known him already knew: that he is a man with a pastor’s heart and a true priest’s compassion.”
Benedict XVI’s pastoral touch could also be seen when he preached at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. His forthright challenges to his listeners, whether young or old, serve as a “reminder to pastors of all denominations that ‘preaching up,’ rather than ‘preaching down,’ is the way to inspire and nourish,” Weigel asserts.
All of this was accompanied by the pomp and ceremony that surrounds a papal visit, but to only see the glitz would be to miss the substantial ideas the Holy Father proposed, says Weigel.
Most notable for George Weigel are the Pope’s ideas “about the way the world works, ideas about inter-religious dialogue, and ideas about Christian ecumenism.” All three of these categories of thought are united by a common thread: “the Benedictine project of turning noise into conversation through the recovery of moral reason,” he proposes in his Newsweek article.