Pope's US Tour: A Substantive Guide

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Win McNamee / Getty

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he arrives at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, April 15, 2008.

For those who truly dote on the Pope, several television stations, including Mother Angelica's Eternal World Television (EWTN), will offer what one observer calls "miter to miter" coverage of the pontiff's trip to America starting today and ending with his departure back to Rome on Sunday. For those with special interests and more limited time, however, we offer the following guide to his travels:

Benedict's Birthday:
It's on April 16th, so one might expect best wishes from George W. Bush at the White House welcoming ceremony on Wednesday. But if you want to hear seminarians sing "Happy Birthday to You," wait until his visit to St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.

The Priest Shortage:
The issue will be central at his prayer service and meeting with bishops at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate conception in Washington and at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y. at 9:15 a.m. on Saturday. Benedict will also bring up his hopes for greater activism by regular laypeople.

The Big Prayer Meetings
The most intense will probably be his 5:30 Wednesday prayer service at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the ecumenical prayer service on Friday at 6:00 p.m. at St. Joseph's Church in Manhattan, and at his mass at Nationals Stadium at 9:30 a.m. Thursday and Sunday Mass at 2:30 p.m. at Yankee Stadium. The motto for this entire trip is "Christ Is Our Hope," so expect that theme to be repeated at each venue.

Serious Wonk Stuff
For the Pope's take on war, abortion, terrorism, globalization and human rights, focus on Benedict's Wednesday 10:30 a.m. White House event and Friday 10:45 a.m. address at the U.N. The U.N. speech will probably be more revealing, and he may also address the environment there.

The Pope Vs. Catholic Academe
In 1990 the Vatican issued a strongly worded demand that Catholic academics be more supportive of a Catholic way of life and that the Church approve the appointment of theologians in Catholic educational institutions. Initially highly controversial, the document has been less stringently enforced than some professors and administrators had feared. On Thursday at 5:00 p.m. the Pope will meet with more than 200 Catholic educators at Washington's Catholic University. He is expected to try to find a nicer way to achieve similar aims, in what one observer has nicely termed, "affirmative orthodoxy."

The Sex Abuse Scandal
The Pope has not spent much time addressing this painful issue, having already expressed his shame and desire to prevent future abuse to reporters on his flight to the states. He may also discuss it on his Wednesday 5:30 p.m. Washington meeting with all the U.S. bishops, and certainly during the homily of his Mass for priests at New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral at 9:15 a.m. Saturday. The outstanding questions are whether the Pope will talk to victims and whether he will assign any blame to the supervisors and bishops who ignored or covered up for priests they knew were abusive and enabled them to become multiple offenders.

The Latin Mass
Benedict, who recently made it easier for priests to celebrate the mass in Latin (the norm prior to the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s) will be sprinkling Latin throughout his visit. But the highlight may be at his 5:30 p.m. Wednesday prayer service and meeting with the U.S. Catholic Bishops, which will have numerous Latin passages, and his Sunday 2:30 p.m. Yankee Stadium Mass, where the Creed, normally recited here in English, will be in Rome's mother tongue.

Non-Catholic Christians
Benedict will lead an ecumenical prayer service on Friday at 6:00 p.m. at St. Joseph's Church in Manhattan. He will stress commonality in Christ.

Spanish Speakers
Aware that at some point in the next 40 years the majority of his flock in the U.S. is projected to be Hispanic, Benedict threw a few sentences in Spanish into his videotaped message prior to the trip. At his Mass for priests at St. Patrick's at 9:15 a.m. on Saturday, the first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, will be read in Spanish.

Ground Zero
At 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, the Pope will say a lovely prayer, which has already been made public, at the site of the 9/11 attack on New York City. It begins, "O God of love, compassion, and healing, look on us, people of many different faiths and traditions, who gather together at this site, the scene of incredible violence and pain." He asks that God give "eternal light and peace" to all who died there, in the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pa. The prayer ends: "Comfort and console us, strengthen us in hope, and give us the wisdom and courage to work tirelessly for a world where true peace and love reign among nations and in the hearts of all."

Jewish Interests
The Vatican's relations with the Jews have been on a steady upward curve since the 1960s, but there is occasional turbulence. Most recently some Jewish groups were upset that Benedict did not excise the passage about converting the Jews from the Latin version of the Mass. As if to make up, Benedict has scheduled several Jewish events this week. At 6:30 p.m. on Thursday he will address Jews along with representatives of other religions at Washington's John Paul II Center. On Friday at 5:00 p.m. he will become the first Pope to visit an American synagogue when he drops by to deliver Passover greetings at Manhattan's Park East synagogue. The only controversy may occur at his Thursday 9:30 a.m. Mass at Washington's Nationals Park. The gospel passage the Pope has chosen is the verse from the Gospel of John including Jesus' offering to his disciples, "peace be with you." But that sentence begins, "On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked ... for fear of the Jews." Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League says he hopes the Pope is able to excise those words. However, the Pope clearly wants to speak about peace and this is the Gospels' most powerful reference to it. Priests do not usually edit within the biblical sentence of a gospel reading.

Muslim Interests
Those with a special interest in Islam should tune in for the Pope's interfaith meeting. One Muslim representative will be Dr. Sayyid Syeed, head of the Islamic Society of North America. Dr. Syeed noted to Voice of America News that parts of a speech the Pope gave in 2006 in Regensburg, Germany, had been "extremely painful" to Muslims, but that "I would like to make sure that if he has any misunderstanding about Islam we need to sit and discuss." He also noted that "Catholics over generations have struggled for recognition and respect. Their experience of that struggle is directly relative to us establishing a respectable Islamic presence here in America." Those following the Papal/Muslim dialog may also want to tune in for Benedict's speech before the United Nations at 10:45 a.m. on Friday. One cardinal suggested that the Pope might use the U.N. speech to talk about how major religions could contribute to the reduction of violence.

Other Faiths
Try the interfaith forum at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday at Washington's John Paul II Center. Judaism, Islam, Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism will all be represented.

The Church and Young People
The one encounter we know that the Pope specifically requested was his meeting with 25,000 young Catholics and 5,000 seminarians starting at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers. One of the Church's responses to the priest shortage is expected to be more active recruitment of the young, and Benedict will probably start here, especially given the venue.

The Disabled
Fifty of the youngsters who will greet the Pope at the 4:30 p.m. Saturday event at St. Joseph's seminary in Yonkers have disabilities, and the New York Archdiocese's deaf choir will sing.

Papal Car Enthusiasts
The customized Mercedes-Benz ML430 — otherwise known as the international Pope-mobile, as opposed to the one used in St. Peter's Square — will roll in Washington on Wednesday and Thursday. It will be in use in New York on Saturday after Benedict's 9:15 a.m. Mass at Saint Patrick's Cathedral and during his Saturday 4:30 p.m. visit to St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers. It will tool around Yankee Stadium, where he will celebrate Sunday Mass.