Monday, April 14, 2008

The Week In Front Of Us

The next presidential primary is still a little more than a week away, but that doesn't mean that the week immediately in front of us will have no important dates.

On Tuesday, Pope Benedict is scheduled to visit the United States. I'm not Catholic, and I'm sure regular churchgoing Catholics have been advised repeatedly by their priests of the pope's itinerary, but my understanding is that he is scheduled to arrive in Washington, where he'll spend a few days, then he will spend three days in New York before returning to Rome. While the pope is in the United States, he will observe his 81st birthday.

I don't believe the pope is scheduled to visit Philadelphia, although it would be appropriate if he did. Yesterday, Cardinal Justin Rigali was scheduled to observe the close of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's bicentennial celebration with a Mass at Villanova University.

Still, visits to Washington and New York give the pope the opportunity to speak about violence and terrorism in the world. He will, after all, be visiting the two cities that were targets of terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. It's the first papal visit to those cities since those attacks.

And, along with being the pope's birthday, Wednesday is the first anniversary of the deadly campus shootings at Virginia Tech.

Parents have long experienced anxiety about sending their sons and daughters to college campuses each semester, and their worries have been extensive, from fears of bad grades to all the other distractions that wait for naive youngsters away from home for the first time.

The threat of violence has always been there, but, particularly in recent years, that threat seems more pronounced. It didn't start with Columbine High School in 1999 or Virginia Tech last year -- or Northern Illinois this year -- but parents can hardly be blamed if they feel there's no safe place to send their children for an education anymore.

As the head of the Roman Catholic Church, the pope could reassure these parents -- and others in the community -- who worry about violent acts they feel powerless to prevent.

But that may be unfair to Pope Benedict. As USA Today observes, the pope "possesses none of the telegenic ease of his charismatic predecessor. While John Paul II misspent some of his youth as an actor, the only role Benedict XVI seems comfortable playing is the geek. And while John Paul II was very much at home in the modern world, Benedict XVI seems to greet our age with a sneer."

Popes, after all, are people. And each person is different.

We may be expecting too much of John Paul from Benedict.

We should give him a chance to answer USA Today's question: "[W]hich face of Catholicism will he present to the American people -- the one that scolds or the one that embraces?"

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