Before the Holy Father left Rome, I told a number of journalists that they shouldn‚Äôt be surprised if the pope was very well received in America. Little did I know. As I said in the previous post, I believed that a great deal of Catholic life is below the radar of most press coverage, which ‚Äì naturally enough ‚Äì tends to focus on problems and conflicts. The problems and conflicts exist, of course, but they are a relatively small part of a much bigger story, and that bigger story does not lend itself to media coverage‚Ä¶
Unless something special happens. The special something may be the death and election of a pope ‚Äì drawing not only enormous crowds of believers but also crowds of reporters to Rome at the same time. The experience in Rome in April of 2005 was an eye-opener. The vision of those prayerful and enthusiastic crowds, drawn largely by the personality and holiness of John Paul II, is what caused Benedict XVI to assert: the Church is alive; the Church is young.
Something similar seems to have happened during the U.S. trip. Reporters and huge crowds of happy Catholic believers were thrown together in a festive atmosphere without the filter of press releases and communications offices and the story-shaping lens of conflict. Reporters were in a position to simply write what they saw. As everyone knows, on this trip, the theme of conflict was present from the beginning, and it was given its due, but it gradually fell by the wayside as that larger, ordinarily-less-tangible story ‚Äì the faith of countless Catholic believers – got told.
The trip did an enormous amount of good ‚Äì for the US, for Australia (where they are preparing to host the Roman Pontiff at World Youth Day), for the world‚Ä¶
And, it seems, for the pope himself, because, today, in Rome, something else remarkable happened. In his Regina Coeli message, Benedict XVI credited the Catholics of the U.S. with confirming his own hope. Imagine, the sheep confirming the hope of the shepherd. This is what he said (the translation is my own):
‚ÄúI thank God because He blessed abundantly this singular missionary experience of mine and deigned to make me an instrument of Christian hope for that Church and for that country. At the same time, I thank Him because I was myself confirmed in hope by the Catholics of America: indeed, I found a great vitality and a firm desire to live and bear witness to the faith in Jesus. On Wednesday, in the general audience, I will speak more at length about my visit to America.‚Äù
(Original Italian: “Ringrazio Dio perch?© ha benedetto largamente questa mia singolare esperienza missionaria e mi ha concesso di farmi strumento della speranza di Cristo per quella Chiesa e per quel Paese. In pari tempo lo ringrazio perch?© io stesso sono stato confermato nella speranza dai cattolici americani: ho trovato infatti una grande vitalit?† e la decisa volont?† di vivere e testimoniare la fede in Ges??. Mercoled?¨ prossimo, durante l‚ÄôUdienza generale, mi propongo di soffermarmi pi?? ampiamente su questa mia visita in America.”)
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