Sunday, April 20, 2008
Before the Pope arrived I wrote a long preview piece that concluded this way:

"A number of Vatican officials have told me that the Pope will assiduously avoid politics throughout his American pilgrimage and focus instead on inspiring the faithful to reform their lives and society at large. It could be thought of as trickle down spirituality. This summary by Benedict of his visit to Brazil in 2007 nicely encapsulates what I think he will offer America:

'I encouraged them to recover everywhere the style of the first Christian community described in the Acts of the Apostles: assiduous in catechesis, the sacramental life and charitable works. I know the dedication of these faithful servants of the Gospel who want to present it fully without confusion, watching over the deposit of the faith with discernment; it is also their constant duty to promote social development, principally through the formation of the laity, called to assume responsibility in the field of politics and economics. Only the one who meets the love of God in Jesus and sets himself upon this way to practice it among men, becomes his disciple and missionary.'

Benedict will do what all Popes do on these shores: call new disciples and missionaries into the hopeful vineyard that is America. At a moment when the country is confronted by economic downturns, terrorism, political instability, and a leadership vacuum, the Pope will offer hope.

The measure of this trips success will not be found so much in what the Pope does, as in the echo that remains after he does it. The response of those who hear him will tell the tale."

Journalists are now calling inquiring about whether the Pope's trip was successful and what impact it has had. I stand by the last two sentences I wrote weeks ago. This papal visit will play out in big and small ways, in the hearts and minds of those who have heard Benedict's call.

From a purely external perspective (the media perspective if you will), the trip has been a triumph. Pope Benedict's "theatre of substantive acts": his meeting with victims of clerical sexual abuse; the visit with religious leaders at the John Paul II Cultural Center; his warm, "impromptu" stop at the Park East Synagogue in New York, and the solemn prayer service at Ground Zero all brilliantly revealed a man of faith willing to engage the world with hope and love.

I have been struck by the number of non-Catholics who have stopped me in the streets of New York or written to share how touched they have been by the events of this week. Many say they are strangely drawn to this "new pope."

I think we have all found ourselves fascinated and drawn to this Pontiff-- not due to his dazzling oratory or ability to entertain, but for his willingness to challenge and risk for the sake of the Gospel message. It has been quite a week. Quiet, bold Benedict has left his mark.

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