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Dash of Pepper

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The Pope rocks
By SHEILAH PEPPER
The Gazette Staff
If you were anywhere near a television set during the five days from April 16th through last Sunday and have any interest in current affairs, you probably witnessed a series of remarkable events.
The five-day visit of Pope Benedict XVI bought out incredible crowds of people who roared joyfully just at the sight of the Pope. It began on the afternoon of the 15th when the President of the United States went out to Andrews Air Force Base to meet the Pope as he stepped off his plane. Visiting heads of state generally do not get this treatment - the President greets them at the door of the White House - so the President put a special focus on this visit from the start.
But the White House out did itself the following morning. The military band performed the Vatican anthem (the Vatican being a sovereign state) and a glorious rendition of The Star Spangled Banner. Soprano Kathleen Battle rendered an exquisite performance of The Lord's Prayer.
The President set the tone. "In a world where some no longer believe that we can distinguish between simple right and wrong, we need your message to reject this ‘dictatorship of relativism,' and embrace a culture of justice and truth."
He continued, "The United States is the most innovative, creative and dynamic country on earth ... in our nation, faith and reason coexist in harmony. This is one of our country's greatest strengths and one of the reasons that our land remains a beacon of hope and opportunity for millions across the world."
The Pope enlarged on this theme: "Freedom is not only a gift but also a summons to individual responsibility. In a word, freedom is ever new. It is a challenge held out to a generation, and it must constantly be won over for the cause of good."
Quoting the late Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict said, "In a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation." His Holiness concluded that these words echoed the conviction of President Washington ... "that religion and morality represent ‘indispensable supports' of political prosperity."
The morning was perfection. The sky was a brilliant blue and all around the speakers, cherry blossoms danced in a light breeze. The supreme moment was the stirring rendition of The Battle Hymn of the Republic by the United States Army Band and Chorus. I was moved to tears as were many others - tears of joy and pride. Rush Limbaugh was also greatly moved and posted this performance on his web site. It may still be there, plus the band has its own web site, at www.usarmyband.com.
The Pope's visit to the synagogue in Manhattan was ground-breaking. The rabbi there is a holocaust survivor.
The Pontiff, during his visit, repeatedly confronted recent scandals and did not flinch, meeting personally with abuse victims.
The mass at St. Patrick's was another marvelous event with a focus on the liturgy and the great traditional music of the church ringing forth. The Pope is an accomplished pianist.
The rock star moment came that afternoon in the ceremony for young people at the seminary grounds in Yonkers. Many in the audience were heading into vocations in the church. They stopped him at one point in his remarks, repeating, "We love you, we love you!"
On Sunday, the simplicity of the ceremony at Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan was stunning. Bells tolled and a lone cellist supplied the accompaniment until the Pontiff arrived. The Pope walked alone slowly down the ramp clad in a plain white overcoat. He knelt in silent prayer for about four minutes then lit the lone candle. He then met with about twenty people who had lost loved ones - first responders, fire fighters, their remaining spouses or relatives and relatives of people who had died in the towers, who went to work on Sept 11th, never to return home. Legions of remains were not recovered, likely vaporized. For these families, the Pope's blessing offers at least a measure of closure.
The afternoon mass at Yankee Stadium, attended by 47,000, was another love fest, showcasing once more the liturgy and the marvelous music. The Pope's homily was an amalgam of his messages delivered during the previous days - that faith and freedom live together, that this country is a light of hope and love in the world.
His message resonated, I think, not only with Roman Catholics but with good people of all denominations and faiths. He loves America and we loved him back, big time. Perhaps the Church needed this visit. But we discovered that we, too, needed this visit.
Benedict XVI is a cerebral man, the author of several books, many written when he was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. At the time he was elected to the Papacy, some in the Vatican and the press said he was too old, a hard-liner and the church needed "someone new, different" perhaps from the Third World, plus he had to follow the much-loved John Paul !!.
But the cardinals felt differently. The Church is 2,000 years old. This institution doesn't select "new" for the sake of new and cool. Cardinal Ratzinger was the closest advisor to John Paul. The cardinals knew his abilities and voted for continuity.
So this 81-year-old German intellectual priest came to the United States and received the reception of a rock star and he knew it. When he left Sunday from a hangar at JFK Airport, he ended his brief remarks with a ringing "God Bless America!"
Even the cardinals must be amazed.
Copyright©2008SheilahPepper
Last Updated on Friday, 12 June 2009 14:48  

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