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April 09, 2008
What to expect from Pope's visit
By Bishop Thomas Wenski *

By Bishop Thomas Wenski *

Next week "Shepherd One" will land at Andrew's Air Force Base, and Pope Benedict XVI will begin his brief visit to the United States.

Of course, the primary purpose of his visit is pastoral. The theme of the visit is "Christ our hope." As Peter's successor, Pope Benedict XVI comes to strengthen the faith, hope and love of Catholics. While he will only stop in Washington, D.C., and New York City, Catholics throughout the United States will welcome his visit. We sense that he has something to say to us.

However, he also will meet with religious leaders of other faiths and traditions as well as with President Bush; and he will address the assembled delegates of the United Nations as did Popes John Paul II and Paul VI before him.

While the Vatican is technically the world's smallest "state," he will not speak as a "head of state." This is important to understand lest his appearance before the United Nations be misunderstood. He is not just another player in a global game of power politics. He is not a politician but the Bishop of Rome and the universal pastor of the Catholic Church. This is not to say that he does not have his pulse on the world. Today, the Holy See has diplomatic relations with more than 175 countries. At the U.N. itself, the Holy See's permanent observer addresses the full range of political, social, economic and cultural issues that make up the organization's agenda.

Benedict XVI will address the U.N. as a religious leader, a moral leader -- but a uniquely informed one. And just as he will have something to say to Catholics, he will have something to say to the U.N. and the world.

Two years ago, he challenged academia in his scholarly -- but not uncontroversial -- lecture at Regensburg, Germany; I suspect that he will challenge the world's political leaders as well. As George Weigel of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy center observed, "His very presence will be a challenge to those who would separate religious faith from reason (like some radical Islamic jihadists and the Western intellectuals of today's 'new atheism')".

In his 2006 Message for the World Day of Prayer for Peace, Benedict wrote, "Whenever there is a loss of fidelity to the transcendent order, and a loss of respect for that 'grammar' of dialogue which is the universal moral law written on human hearts, whenever the integral development of the person and the protection of his fundamental rights are hindered or denied, whenever countless people are forced to endure intolerable injustices and inequalities, how can we hope that the good of peace will be realized?"

Much of the turbulence in world politics today stems from the detachment of faith from reason and the loss of faith in reason. Like John Paul II before him, he will draw upon his faith to defend reason. In doing so, this pope who began his career as a professor, will no doubt reintroduce world leaders to the universal moral law. This law written on the human heart and therefore knowable to human reason constitutes that "grammar" of dialogue necessary for men and nations to build together a future of hope.

The original story can be found at the Orlando Sentinel.

Most Rev. Thomas Wenski is bishop of Orlando, Florida.
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