Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



The Bishop Writes

"The pope is coming!"


by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the April 10, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

On April 15, Pope Benedict XVI will arrive in the United States for a five-day visit. This will be his first official visit to the United States as Pope. He had been here several times as Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith before his election to the papacy.

These pastoral visits here and elsewhere around the world have now become commonplace, a part of the pastoral outreach of the Holy See. Pope John Paul II initiated these pastoral visits with some frequency, and they have become an important part of his legacy as Holy Father. One of my vivid memories during one of these visits was September 1987 in Detroit, when I was chair of the Bishops’ Committee on the Permanent Diaconate for what was then called the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. I was alone with him behind the stage before he addressed some 3,000 deacons and wives. He asked me about the diaconate and how it was doing in the United States. For the deacon community, this was the first time he had addressed them anywhere in the world – truly a historic moment.

Even though the present visit here in the U.S. will be relatively brief, with stops in only two cities (Washington, D.C. and New York), this moment should be very significant. Pope Benedict again will meet with President Bush. The pope will address the United Nations, meet with the U.S. Catholic bishops in Washington D.C., address the presidents of Catholic colleges and universities, and a representative in Catholic education from each diocese (Dr. Duane Schafer will represent the Spokane Diocese). The pope will visit with several ecumenical/interreligious groups, stop briefly at Ground Zero, and celebrate large public Masses in Washington D.C. and in New York City.

The personality of Pope Benedict XVI is quite different from that of Pope John Paul II. Pope Benedict will be 81 on the day he arrives in the U.S. Accordingly, the Holy See limits the schedule each day to certain events. Given the complexity of the world situation, his message to the United Nations will be closely watched. The history of the Catholic Church in the U.S. these last few years has been painful and difficult. No doubt the Holy Father will speak to that reality. He will speak to the bishops in the lower level of the shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, and I look forward to that opportunity to hear him. I will be attending the large public Mass in Washington D.C. as well.

Pope Benedict’s writings have been remarkable. His first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, was powerful and challenging. His recent encyclical Spe Salvi, on hope, was encouraging. His address to university students in Rome during Holy Week was truly pastoral. Many have read his book, Jesus of Nazareth, a personal reflection on who Jesus is.

On Tuesday of Holy Week, the Holy Week missalette publication Magnificat shared an unusual quote from Pope Benedict XVI. This reflection helps us to place in perspective the role of the papacy and the unique person of every pope:

“We have grown accustomed to make a clear distinction between Peter the rock and Peter, the denier of Christ – the denier of Christ: that is Peter as he was before Easter; the rock: that is Peter, as he was after Pentecost, the Peter of whom we have constructed a singularly idealist image. But, in reality, he was at both times both of these …. Has it not been thus throughout the history of the Church that the Pope, the successor of Peter, has been at once Petra and the Skandalon – both the rock of Peter and the stumbling block? In fact, the faithful will always have to reckon with the paradox of the divine dispensation that shames their pride again and again.”

Everyone is unique. We have special gifts, but also each one of us has limitations in one way or another. Over the past decades, we have had remarkably gifted popes. Their own person, their unique backgrounds and experience seem to come forward at a much-needed moment in the history of the Church. The Holy Spirit continues to be the Spirit of surprise as each new Holy Father is selected. A couple of years ago, for the first time in history we were able to observe at close quarters the election of a new pontiff.

With deep affection, we welcome the Holy Father to the United States. We pray for the success of this pastoral visit, that it truly will be a time of affirmation and hope for our Catholic community. We also hope and pray that his visit will reinforce for the U.S. and the world our strong conviction of the dignity of the human person, whoever and wherever she or he is, all over the world. Specifically, we also pray for Benedict XVI as he prepares for the visit and celebrates his birthday.

May God bless all of us as we come together during this visit as part of the Church universal.


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