Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

A Nation Ready To Hear A Message Of Hope

By STEPHEN KENT, CNS | Published April 17, 2008

A papal visit is usually meant to bring hope to a country where the economy is in turmoil, its citizens divided over an unpopular war, where millions are hungry, one in eight are in poverty or the latest entertainment involves 6-year-old children engaged in cage fighting.

Typically the pope is met at the airport by that nation’s leader and driven over rutted dirt roads to the capital to be welcomed to the presidential residence. But when Pope Benedict XVI arrives in the United States, he will be whisked over freeways to his destination. While the U.S. is not a typical Third-World country, it is one where hope is much needed.

The U.S. worries whether its economy is in recession or in more grave danger of a serious collapse of its financial infrastructure; where no end is seen to war; where the government says 36.5 million of its people live below the official federal poverty level and that 12.5 million people were “food insecure” in 2006.

The pope’s message is not new, but this time it may find a more receptive audience.

Americans are interested in hearing about God, religion and spirituality in their lives, according to a new national survey commissioned by the Knights of Columbus. According to the survey, more than 70 percent of Americans want to hear the pope talk about how they can make a positive difference in the world, their state and communities.

Pope Benedict, in his recent encyclical “Spe Salvi,” made the connection of faith and hope. Christians have a future, he said, and know their hope won’t end in emptiness. This helps counter the constant temptation to become slaves to wealth and material goods, Pope Benedict XVI said in his 2008 message for Lent.

The pope may speak of this again in his homily at the Mass in Yankee Stadium in the Bronx where men are paid $200 million a year to play a game not far from some of the nation’s worst poverty and hunger.

Americans who listen carefully to the pope will discover a “world-class intellectual who can speak in terms that are simple and clear and readily accessible,” said Mary Ann Glendon, U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. The pope can be expected to touch on some specific social issues, but his deeper message will be about forming consciences and the values that underpin life in the church and in society.

“I think the kinds of things he says require close attention,” Glendon said. “He does not dumb down, and I think that’s his particular gift, that he is able to communicate very profound and complex ideas in accessible language.”

Like Catholic social thought in general, she added, the pope remains at the level of principle. He doesn’t enter into the discussion of particular programs and policies.

Glendon recalled the pope’s comments about how excluding God from personal and social life inevitably leads to the idea that “we ourselves are our only measure.” The result is widespread alienation and unhappiness, diminished respect for human life and environmental irresponsibility.

Those who do listen carefully to the pope’s messages will be rewarded, Glendon said.

It is becoming increasingly clear that solutions to the nation’s problems will not come from the same old way. The pope’s message is sure to reach a level above change. He will urge transformation.

For the hope he offers comes only through transformation, from wanting to be completely autonomous to finding the freedom that comes from pursuing God’s will.