Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

What I Have Seen And Heard (April 24, 2008)

By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published April 24, 2008

In 1979 when Pope John Paul II made his first pastoral visit to the United States, I was still a doctoral student in Rome finishing my dissertation. I thus missed the excitement of that first whirlwind trip through my country.

I have heard plenty of stories from people, though, who told me of the excitement and the enthusiasm for the Holy Father. Chicago, my hometown, was one of the places where he visited, and I am told that the city was just electric with energy, joy and enthusiasm.

Bishop Timothy Lyne, then the pastor of Holy Name Cathedral, told me about a helicopter ride that he took with John Cardinal Cody after they had left the Holy Father at the airport for his next stop on his trip in the U.S. They made “a victory lap” around the city of Chicago aboard the helicopter as they basked in the joy and triumph of a splendid visit to the Windy City.

Somehow, I envision Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl and Cardinal Edward Egan of New York basking in such joy this evening. It was a superb trip for Pope Benedict XVI, and those who organized it, supported it, participated in it, or just watched it on television would all undoubtedly agree. Now come the postmortems of what made it so successful and how might it have been even more effective.

Without a doubt, the warmth and charm of the Holy Father was obvious to all. He is a pastor, and he loves his people—that alone made the journey successful. He taught, exhorted and challenged Catholics to live the Faith more courageously and publicly. He comforted the broken-hearted, and he urged the Church’s ministers to be more faithful in our devotion to the People of God. He recognized the great potential that the Church in the United States holds for all the Church Universal.

He pressed bishops to be ever more watchful over the flocks entrusted to our care—especially attending to the needs of the young and vulnerable, the marginalized and the poor.

He challenged our nation to remember that we are a country founded upon welcoming immigrants and those who fled to this nation in search of freedom and opportunity.

He did all of these things with great finesse and obvious compassion.

He prayed with people in multilingual and multicultural celebrations that affirmed the efforts of the pastors of the Church in the United States to serve the great diversity of peoples who call the U.S. their home. He called us to live in harmony, unity and in peace, respecting and honoring the differences that make us a unique expression of the Catholic Church at this moment in history.

I suspect that as he sat back in his seat on the Alitalia flight on Sunday evening, he had gained a much better understanding and impression of the Church in the United States. Perhaps he even considered asking the pilot to do a short “victory lap” along the eastern coast of the United States as he looked back on the people who had given him such a warm, loving and sincere welcome.

Viva il Papa!