Despite his reputation as a stern guardian of Catholic orthodoxy, PopeBenedict XVI's first papal visit to the United States will likely beupbeat and positive, say church leaders.
Benedictplans to arrive Tuesday evening at Andrews Air Force Base in suburbanWashington and spend two days in the capital before departing Fridayfor New York City.
The visit, which is scheduled to include aWednesday meeting with President Bush, a Friday address to the UnitedNations, and stadium Masses in Washington and New York, also will markthe creation 200 years ago of four Roman Catholic dioceses, includingPhiladelphia's.
Benedict will not visit Philadelphia, but 3,000Catholics from the archdiocese will attend his Mass at Yankee Stadiumnext Sunday. Later that day, he returns to Rome.
"No one knowsfor sure what he's going to say" in his 11 prepared remarks over fivedays, the Rev. David O'Connell, president of Catholic University ofAmerica, said in an interview Thursday.
"But I can tell youwhat he's not going to do: He's not going to hammer us over the head,"said O'Connell, who serves on the organizing committee.
O'Connellwill be Benedict's host Thursday when the pontiff visits CatholicUniversity to address the presidents of all the nation's Catholiccolleges and universities.
As the Vatican's chief theologianunder Pope John Paul II, Benedict - then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -was often caricatured as a harsh enforcer of Catholic orthodoxy andnicknamed "God's rottweiler."
No one knows that better than theRev. Thomas Reese, a liberal Jesuit and author whose frequentchallenges to Vatican orthodoxy cost him his job as editor of theCatholic weekly magazine America soon after Benedict's election threeyears ago.
"But the papacy changes the man," Reese, now a seniorfellow at the Jesuits' Woodstock Seminary in Washington, said lastweek4/7-11. "He's got the whole world on his desk now."
Demandfor tickets to the two stadium Masses has outstripped supply by 10-1,Reese said, as "people have warmed up to his personality, his smile,the way he has eye contact."
Benedict will sometimes travel inthe famous "popemobile," a tall, glass-enclosed vehicle that allows himto stand and wave to crowds as his motorcade passes by. He might alsouse it to circle Nationals Park in Washington and Yankee Stadium in NewYork.
Other highlights on the schedule include a Sunday morningvisit to the site of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center andan address to the nation's Catholic bishops Wednesday - his 81stbirthday - at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.
Benedict,who has rankled some in the Jewish community by saying the churchawaits the day when Jews will "say yes to Christ," recently added aFriday visit to a Manhattan synagogue to his itinerary.
By now, most people living around the capital have gotten the message that popes wear white.
Anticipatinglarge crowds during his stay, the Washington subway system last weekran a TV commercial urging anyone attending the papal Mass at NationalsPark to take public transportation. In an attempt at levity, thecommercial featured a grinning bobblehead doll of the pope riding theMetro. The doll, however, wore the red cap and cape of a cardinal.
Thelocal news media had a field day with the gaffe, and the Archdiocese ofWashington made it known it was not amused to see the spiritual leaderof the world's 1.1 billion Catholics represented by a jiggling,six-inch-tall doll. The subway system apologized and yanked the ad.
Justwhat the Holy Father seeks to achieve with the visit was a matter ofsome discussion Thursday, when Reese and other Catholic scholars joinedin a telephone news conference sponsored by Catholics in Alliance forthe Common Good.
"This is not a visit to the United States.It's to the United Nations," said the Rev. Richard Ryscavage, directorof Fairfield University's Center for Faith in Public Life. "It's beentraditional [for popes] to do this early in their papacy."
Ryscavagesaid he thought Benedict would use the U.N. address to speak to theneeds of the world's poor in an era of globalization.
The Rev.David Hollenbach, director of the Center for Human Rights andInternational Justice at Boston College, said he saw Benedict as a"theologian pope" who would seek to "communicate certain fundamentalrealities of the Christian faith."
Hollenbach said he thoughtthat if Benedict made something "distinctive" of the visit, "it will bethe way he addresses issues of political and social concern, likeenvironment and war."
Reese speculated that Benedict might wantto speak to the relatively high rate at which American Catholics aredeparting the faith.
Although the U.S. Catholic population of 67million is growing, Reese remarked that numerous studies show thegrowth is due largely immigration from Latin America.
Thepanelists were uncertain whether Benedict would mention the clergysex-abuse scandals that rocked the Catholic Church in the United Statesthis decade. Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the papal nuncio, orrepresentative, to the United States has replied vaguely when asked.
MaryannCusimano Love, a professor of politics at Catholic University, said sheanticipated that the overarching theme of Benedict's trip would be acall to nonviolence and "the need to be peacemakers around the world .. . at home as well as in international conflicts."
"The heart of his message is that these are not divisible ways of looking at the world," Love said. "They're all interconnected.
Contact staff writer David O'Reilly at 215-854-5723 or firstname.lastname@example.org