“In Hope We Are Saved”
Jon O’Brien, President, Catholics for Choice.
Photo Credit: Eric Haase. This picture is copyrighted and cannot be reproduced without the express permission of Catholics for Choice.
For weeks now, Catholic schools across the country have been preparing excited children for the visit of the pope to the United States. The kids have been drawing pictures of the pope, making pope hats, playing papal jeopardy and learning about the man who is the spiritual leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics.
About 65 million of those Catholics live in the United States and I know that, as much as we will welcome the man who is pope, this visit, like papal visits the world over, is even more a celebration of ourselves and our faith. It is a chance to see Catholics and Catholicism highlighted in a way that doesn’t happen often in American life. Just like on Ash Wednesday, when we get to answer all those questions that perplexed friends and colleagues good-naturedly ask, we can share what it is to be a thoughtful, sincere and committed member of the Catholic church in 2008. As American Catholics, it makes us proud to see something that is such an important part of our lives contributing to the panoply and diversity that makes this such a great nation.
American Catholics will, I think, also be warmed by the words of the Vatican ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, who told the media that the papal trip is first and foremost a pastoral journey. After having been rocked by the tragic sexual abuse scandal and the subsequent cover-up, it is only right and fitting that the leader of our church should have a pastoral approach. Here is his chance to start healing some of the very deep wounds that an intransigent church leadership has inflicted on us.
Interesting also is the fact that, despite visits to the United Nations and President George W. Bush, Archbishop Sambi said that those who think the pope will have a message for Catholic voters because he is visiting during a presidential election year should remember “the pope is not a political but a religious leader.” If there is something that is an exclusive prerogative of Americans, it is their choice of leaders. Sambi recognizes that foreigners should not interfere.
Popes, like presidents, have a special identity or hallmark they bring to their position. John XXIII brought the legacy of aggiornamento or a “bringing up to date” when he sought to throw open the doors and windows of the church with Vatican II. Pope John Paul II had an electrifying charisma—I saw him stand before millions of people and draw them to him with very simple words and gestures in a way that only the greatest of communicators can do.
On our Web site, supporters and activists of Catholics for Choice have been sharing their thoughts and reflections on what they would say if they had five minutes alone with the pope.
My hope for Pope Benedict is that his hallmark will be one of a listening pope; that in his visit to the United States and other countries, he becomes known as the pope who listened to ordinary Catholics and heard how we experience our faith as lived rather than what is imagined from the lofty heights of the Vatican. Such a listening pope would do much to heal the fissures that exist between the laity and the hierarchy and would be both prophetic and pastoral in a way that great leaders can be.
Read the November 2016 message from Jon O'Brien: Pope Francis’ Announcement on Abortion Is About Bridging the Deep Chasm Between the Church Hierarchy and the Reality of Everyday Catholics