Like many people this past week, I was intrigued by the visit of Pope Benedict XVI. This intrigue is molded by the fact that I am an ordained Baptist minister (a part of the Protestant multitude who in the words of the current pope does not have the complete light of the gospel) and by the historian's curiosity to observe as many events as possible first hand. Since I could not get a ticket to go to Yankee Stadium, my best choice was to sit in front of my TV and flip through all the channels that were broadcasting live.
The first thing that came across was the self-given importance of many journalists and interviewers. The questions and comments ran the whole gamut from the inane question: What brings you here? TO SEE THE POPE!, to the meticulous explanation of the fact that the altar was positioned where Jeter usually plays, to comments like ‘The pope is greeted as though he is a rock star" or "He is as gentle as Santa Claus."
The other thing that surprised me was that the applause that the pope received during his homily was when he spoke on two issues that the American Catholic Church is struggling with. The first was when he asked us to defend those who need defense the most - the babies in the womb and the second when he asked the young men to consider becoming priests. The American Catholic Church is no longer able to supply the number of needed priests because becoming a priest is exactly what the pope said - a high sacrificial commitment. For many families and for single mothers keeping an unborn child is extremely difficult and sacrificial. While the applause was there, the reality is very different.
While some people enjoyed his articulate presentations, those who were hoping to hear a change in his views were disappointed. The best that could be said was that he speaks with clarity and charity. In fact a number of years ago, it was the president of the Southern Baptist Seminary who said that he enjoys listening to this pope, because while he does not agree with what the pope says, he never has to ask for clarification. Indeed, Pope Benedict has been enjoying the primus inter pares (first among the equals), the position of the Vicar of Christ on this earth and the affirmation that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church. It is within this context that for the first time, the invalid comparison between the Islamic faith and the Roman Catholic Church came to surface. According to this statistic, there are 1.13 billion Catholics, 1.25 billion Muslims, and 2.15 billion Christians. The proper comparison would have been between the Christian faith and the Islamic faith, because the Islamic faith has its main divisions also (Shiites, Sunni, etc.).
One of the stumbling blocks for some journalists was the title His Holiness. Governor Patterson said that His Holiness was well received by the New Yorkers because they have a fascination with holy people such as the pope or the Dalai Lama. One of the priests assisting the journalists said that His Holiness would not be so well received in Central and Western Europe, but he will be similarly received in India not only by Catholics, but also by the Hindus who would go to see a holy man.
What kept me watching was indeed the Christocentric position of the pope. He chose one of the most difficult passages of Jesus. Jesus said: "I am the way the truth and the life; no one can come to the Father, except by me!" Jesus also said: "If I am exalted, I will draw all men unto me." In all the pageantry, the message was clear and so was the emphasis, "Let us take the Lord at His word! Let us renew our faith and put all our hope in His promises!"