On April 15, “Shepherd One” will land at Andrew’s Air Force Base and Pope Benedict XVI will begin his brief visit to the United States – which will include an address at the United Nations.
Of course, the primary purpose of the Holy Father’s 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, DC and New York City, Catholics throughout the United States will welcome his visit. We sense that he has something to say to us.
He also will meet with religious leaders of other faiths and traditions as well as with President Bush and the assembled delegates of the United Nations. To these, he might well reprise the words he spoke three years ago when he assumed the Chair of St. Peter, words that his predecessor spoke more than a quarter century earlier: “Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ!” “If we let Christ in our lives”, Benedict continued, “we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great.”
He will address the U.N.’s General Assembly 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. The Pope speaks, Benedict wrote in an address intended for the faculty and students of La Sapienza, the University of Rome, “as the representative of a community that preserves within itself a treasury of ethical knowledge and experience important for all humanity; in this sense, he speaks as the representative of a form of ethical reasoning.”
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 UN 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 well informed one. And just as he will have something to say to Catholics, he will have something to say to the U.N.
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 lost of faith in reason. Like John Paul II before him (cf. Fides et Ratio), 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 - that “grammar’ of dialogue, based on reason, necessary for men and nations to build together a future of hope.