Pope Benedict, Messenger of Hope

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin - Without a Doubt

Let us say once again: we need the greater and lesser hopes that keep us

going day by day. But these are not enough without the great hope, which

must surpass everything else. This great hope can only be God . . . God is

the foundation of hope: not any god, but the God who has a human face and

who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety.

(Spe Salvi, #31)

In just a few days, now, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI will arrive in the United States to begin his first visit to our country as pope. Although our Holy Father will be visiting only two cities, Washington, D.C. and New York City, his presence will be a wonderful gift for the Catholic Church throughout the United States, including the Diocese of Providence. Pope Benedict’s visit and words will give us a perfect opportunity for personal reflection, spiritual growth and pastoral renewal.

I am pleased to say that the Providence Diocese will be well-represented by a large contingent – clergy, religious and laity from the Diocese – who will be attending several events during our Holy Father’s visit, both in Washington and in New York. I will personally attend the Pope’s meeting with the Bishops of the United States in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday April 16 as well as the public liturgy being held at the Nationals Park baseball stadium the next day.

Our Holy Father will certainly have a very full schedule. His visit to Washington includes plans for a visit to the White House; an interfaith gathering; the meeting with bishops; an address to representatives of Catholic education, and Holy Mass at the baseball stadium.

His New York schedule includes his address to the United Nations; a meeting with ecumenical leaders; Mass with priests, deacons and religious; a meeting with children with disabilities; a rally with youth and seminarians; a visit to Ground Zero (which promises to be the emotional highlight of his visit); and a final Mass at Yankee Stadium.

All this public activity and exhausting schedule for a man who will celebrate his 81st birthday during his visit! We should pray for our Holy Father’s health and safety, and for the spiritual success of his pastoral mission.

As we prepare for our Holy Father’s visit, a few words about the papacy itself might be helpful. The papacy is the oldest continuing institution in the world. Two hundred sixty-five men have held the office in an unbroken line of succession. Each pope is the successor of St. Peter, the first pope, the “Rock” upon which Jesus built His Church. In the present day, over one billion souls are under the care of the Vicar of Christ.

We can expect that Pope Benedict will admirably fulfill several roles during his time among us. He comes as a pilgrim, traveling on a sacred journey. He comes as a prophet, preaching the Word of God and challenging us to do what is right and good. He comes as a pontifex, a true “bridge builder” reaching out to people of every race, religion and nationality. He comes as a peacemaker, promoting themes of peace and justice in our nation and world. He comes as a pastor, the supreme shepherd of the Church. And He comes as il papa, the beloved Father of our Catholic Family.

When he was elected by the College of Cardinals on April 19, 2005, it was predicted that Pope Benedict’s reign would be brief and uneventful. But he has surprised many observers with his energetic and diverse ministry. In 2007, for example, some 2.8 million people participated in events with our Holy Father, the highest annual total ever for any pope. He has already traveled to several different countries; World Youth Day in Australia is on his schedule this summer. His two encyclicals – God is Love and On Christian Hope – have both sold over a million copies within weeks of their release. A third is on its way. And his book, Jesus of Nazareth, has sold millions of copies and has been translated into thirty-two languages.

We should thank God that we have such a good and holy Pope, a man chosen and blessed by God, a man who speaks with a wonderful combination of clarity and charity.

The theme of Pope Benedict’s pastoral visit is “Christ Our Hope,” words that reflect the Holy Father’s encyclical quoted at the beginning of this article. To a fractured and sinful world, to a divided and directionless nation, and to each of us individually, our Holy Father will speak of hope. He will remind us that hope is a resilient virtue, a virtue that in the end overcomes all the problems and evils we face. If we listen to our Holy Father’s words and follow his example he will lead us to God, the source of our hope, the “God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end.”