Archbishop Pietro Sambi, representative of the Pope to the United States, has explained in an interview that Benedict XVI’s successful visit is bearing fruit in the local Church and in has opened the eyes of the secular world.
In an interview with Gianluca Biccini, that will be published in Wednesday's edition of L'Osservatore Romano, Archbishop Sambi said that during the April 15-20 papal trip, the theme of the visit, “Christ Our Hope,” permeated all the addresses of Pope Benedict XVI.
Hope filled more than the Pope’s speeches, the archbishop said as he recalled a brief message that Benedict gave to New York Catholic Radio. Speaking to the radio audience the Holy Father said “he had come ‘to confirm you in the faith, but in truth it has also been you who have confirmed me, with your response, your enthusiasm and affection’.”
The Nuncio said that the Pope was impressed by the fact that Americans “always in difficult moments, have always turned to their churches and temples, finding in the presence of God faith, unity and courage. This people has never been separated from the Word of God: the Bible remains the book that mostly accompanies the American citizen... which continues to illuminate the most significant moments of the personal, family and national life.”
“Therefore, speaking on hope, the Pope has touched an issue deeply rooted in the history and the culture of this people, and has stricken a particularly sensitive cord in these times,” the Nuncio added.
The Archbishop also highlighted the issue of evangelization, telling L'Osservatore that, “The United States, as every country in the world, is in need of a new evangelization. It must begin at home, that is to say, at the core of the Church itself, so that Christians may rediscover the joy and the strength of being Christians.”
“The Pope,” Sambi said, “has opened the way, has given the launch signal in his speeches to the bishops, the priests and religious, the educators, the lay people, the youth: all the sectors of the Church have been called to this commitment, to be instruments of the Spirit to a new Pentecost.”
According to the Nuncio, the Pope provided four major guidelines for the future of the Church in the U.S.
“First, a clear Catholic identity: to what we are and what we want to be, otherwise we become like a drop of wine lost in a glass of water. Second, a strong sense of belonging: each one has a need of a community and the community has the need of each individual; whoever walks alone ends up getting lost. Third, there is a need to cultivate excellence in personal, family and professional life, so as to be a light in the darkness, the city on a hill. In short, to be enriched by a clear identity, by a strong sense of belonging and excellence.” The fourth guideline, Archbishop Sambi said “is full availability to cooperate with whoever wants to build a better future.”
Nevertheless, “the urgency of the need of a solid formation seems to me to be the undercurrent of all his interventions in the U.S., as the foundation needed to launch the new evangelization.”
The fact that the U.S. is a world leader was never far from Pope Benedict’s mind either, according to the Apostolic Nuncio. “Pope Benedict never forgot that he was in the territory of a world superpower, and described the mission of the local Church within that context.”
The Pope's visit, according to Archbishop Sambi, has also been a great occasion for America to get to know better the true personality of the Pope. “Benedict XVI was little known in the United States. Those who were expecting the 'inflexible policeman from the Holy Office' have been conquered by the shepherd, the father, the patient teacher. The Pope has been 'discovered' as a learned man who knows what is happening in the heart of today's man, as someone who brings substantial and lively answers, offered with clarity, humility, almost with shyness; but as a passionate believer of Jesus Christ and steward of the Church, an apostle of hope.”
The response of the American people, according to the Nuncio, has been “an explosion of joy, attention, respect and love.”
“Even those media outlets that usually do not hide their bitterness toward the Catholic Church, have written and transmitted the Pope's activities with interest, respect and even sympathy. The most common expression used in the Catholic milieu has been 'a pastoral visit full of blessings for the whole Church and the country,' while in the secular world it has been 'a success beyond all expectations.' And given the power and influence of the media in the United States, a success here means a success in the whole world.
Regarding the sex abuse crisis, Archbishop Sambi said in the interview that “in the United States many feared that 'the Vatican' had not understood the gravity of the issue.” Following the Pope’s visit, the nuncio said, “This idea has disappeared…. He has shown the way to finally overcome this humiliating conduct. Vigilance will always be necessary.”
Finally the Apostolic Nuncio revealed that he has heard news from many parishes about how “many faithful who had abandoned their religious practice have come back to confession and to weekly Mass.”
“Now the Church is conscious and willing to continue the way opened by the Pope: to renew everything in Christ our Hope,” he asserted.