Thursday, June 12, 2008

Nuncio: US Catholics Have New Concept of Pope

Reports Faithful Returning to Mass After April Visit

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 11, 2008 ( American Catholics have changed their image of Benedict XVI and the Catholic Church after the Pope's April visit to the United States, says the Vatican nuncio in that country.

Archbishop Pietro Sambi told L'Osservatore Romano that the American people "discovered" the Holy Father during his visit, which they viewed in an overwhelmingly positive way.

"Benedict XVI was little and badly known in the United States," Archbishop Sambi said. "Those who expected an 'inflexible policeman of the Holy Office' have been conquered by the pastor, the father, the persuasive teacher.

"The Pope has been 'discovered' as an attentive expert on what happens in the heart of the man of today, as a bearer of substantial and life-giving answers, offered with clarity, with humility, almost with timidity."

And in response to this, the prelate affirmed, "the affection, attention, respect and love of a whole population has exploded."

From among the many details of the visit, Archbishop Sambi emphasized the Pontiff's visit to ground zero, which was "a moment of intense identification of the American people, regardless of their faith, with Benedict XVI."

"Even the press, which normally makes no secret of its sharpness with the Catholic Church, has written of and transmitted the visit of the Pope with interest, respect and liking," explained the nuncio. The secular press "defined the visit as 'an event that exceeded every expectation.' And, given the power and resonance of the U.S. mass media, a success here implies a success in the whole world."


Archbishop Sambi suggested that the Pope was able to connect with the American people because he spoke of hope.

He explained: "In the homily in Nationals Stadium in Washington, the Pontiff said, 'Americans have always been a people of hope […] Hope, hope for the future, is very much a part of the American character.' On Sept. 11, 2001, when the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington were attacked, the American people, just like in all their difficult moments, headed to the churches and the temples, finding in God's presence trust, unity and courage.

"Speaking of hope, the Pope has touched on a theme that is profoundly rooted in the history and the culture of this people, and he has struck a particularly sensitive chord for these times.

"The success of the Pope can be explained by Benedict XVI's capacity to understand the motivations of the American people and to contribute, with humility, the answers they need."

Another important moment, according to the prelate, was the Pope's meeting with President George Bush -- as the Pontiff himself noted later at the general audience of April 30.

Also during that audience, Archbishop Sambi recalled, in which the Holy Father gave a review of the trip, he referred to the "healthy secularism" characteristic of American society, which "was built from the outset on the foundations of a felicitous combination of religious, ethical and political principles."

"The Pope spoke of the 'valid example of healthy secularism' in the United States, describing it as: '[W]here the religious dimension, with the diversity of its expressions, is not only tolerated but appreciated as the nation's "soul" and a fundamental guarantee of human rights and duties' -- a description of 'healthy secularism' that deserves to be attentively studied," Archbishop Sambi affirmed.

Instilling courage

The nuncio said another effect of the trip was instilling new courage in American Catholics.

"On the Catholic radio of the Archdiocese of New York, the Pope said he had come to confirm them in their faith, 'but in reality it is you who have confirmed me, with your response, with your enthusiasm, with your affection.' These spontaneous words have touched the heart of American Catholics, and they have been perceived as appreciation and encouragement," the prelate said.

According to Archbishop Sambi, after the visit, "the Catholic Church has been renewed in courage. We are getting reports from parishes that many of the faithful who had for some time abandoned their religious practices, have returned to confession and Sunday Mass."

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