Tag Archives: Papal Visit

Pope Benedict makes a splash in the UK

21 Sep

SEPTEMBER 21, 2010 — Despite the fact that secularism has nearly overrun the United Kingdom over the past few decades, the celebration that surrounded Pope Benedict XVI’s historic visit last week was a breath of fresh air. Nearly 100,000 strong gathered to welcome him to Scotland when he landed there on Sept. 16.

Pope Benedict exchanges gifts with Queen Elizabeth

The visit made history on several fronts. It was the first ever state visit to the UK by a pope. Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown invited the Holy Father in February 2009. Pope John Paul II’s 1982 trip to the UK, by contrast, was a pastoral visit.

On the last day of Benedict’s four-day trip, he beatified Cardinal John Henry Newman, the preeminent Catholic convert of the 19th century. Newman is the first non-martyred Englishman to advance toward canonization since King Henry VIII sat on the throne. It was also the first beatification Pope Benedict has presided over.

Although these “firsts” are significant, perhaps even more significant is the thawing of anti-Catholic sentiment that began to brew in the weeks leading up to the visit. A few prominent atheists called for the Pope’s arrest earlier this year due to the sexual abuse scandal, various secular pundits took swipes in the media at Catholics, and on the second day of the visit, five men were arrested for concocting a terrorist plot against the Pope. Another was arrested the following day. No doubt the prayers of the faithful were instrumental in disrupting the plot.

Pope Benedict’s deliberate and effective message of respect, tolerance and dialogue struck a chord with his listeners. In a live broadcast message to Catholic schools across the UK, he told students that effective science and research require open minds. “The world needs good scientists, but a scientific outlook becomes dangerously narrow if it ignores the religious and ethical dimension of life, just as religion becomes narrow if it rejects the legitimate contribution of science to our understanding.”

In the most delicate political address of his trip, the Holy Father addressed 1,800 British politicians, business leaders and intellectuals at Westminster Hall, the very spot where St. Thomas More was condemned to death in 1535 for refusing to accept Henry’s Act of Supremacy over the Church of England.

Pope Benedict presides over Cardinal Newman's beatification in Birmingham, England

“If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus,” the Pope said, “then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident. Herein lies the real challenge for democracy.” Among those attending were former prime ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The Pope greeted each one personally before leaving the hall amid great applause.

Cool weather and sporadic sprinkles of rain were no obstacle to the 55,000 pilgrims attending the beatification of Cardinal Newman on Sunday. In his homily, the Holy Father said that “in Blessed John Henry, that tradition of gentle scholarship, deep human wisdom and profound love for the Lord has borne rich fruit, as a sign of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit deep within the heart of God’s people, bringing forth abundant gifts of holiness.”

It remains to be seen whether or not the new Blessed’s intercession will result in a revival, but one thing is sure: The UK will forever be a little brighter after seeing the successor of Peter.

Patrick Novecosky is the founder and editor of The Praetorium.

Pilgrim of peace

18 May

MAY 18, 2009 — Pope Benedict XVI stepped into the fray of Middle East politics by endorsing a Palestinian state during his recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

During his May 15 farewell speech at the Tel Aviv airport, the Pope stressed the need for universal recognition of Israel’s right to exist and the Palestinians’ “right to a sovereign independent homeland.

“Let the two-state solution become a reality,” the Holy Father said, noting that six decades of bloodshed in the Holy Land has distressed him.

“No more bloodshed! No more fighting! No more terrorism! No more war!” he pleaded. “Instead, let us break the vicious circle of violence. Let there be lasting peace based on justice; let there be genuine reconciliation and healing.”

A model for peace

The impassioned speech was one of the many highlights of Pope Benedict’s May 8-15 pilgrimage to the Holy Land, which began with a four-day stop in Jordan. In many ways, his visit mirrored that of Pope John Paul II, who visited Jordan and Israel in 2000.

Pope Benedict began his journey with a stop at Jordan’s Mount Nebo, where tradition says Moses gazed out upon the Promised Land before his death.

“It is appropriate that my pilgrimage should begin on this mountain.” This holy place, he said, should remind all Christians to “undertake a daily exodus from sin and slavery to life and freedom.”

The Pope visited a mosque in the Jordanian capital of Amman before participating in vespers at St. George Melkite Cathedral. It was inspiring to see the Jordanian Christians’ affection for the Holy Father. They shouted, waved flags and sang when he entered the cathedral. The applause was almost deafening.

More than 30% of Jordan’s 109,000 Catholics piled into Amman International Stadium on May 10 for the papal Mass. The youth presence was impressive. Thousands of young people cheered and sang long before the Holy Father’s arrival. A song written especially for the papal visit — “Benvenuto Benedetto in Jordania” (Welcome to Jordan, Benedict in Italian) — rang through the crowd dozens of times throughout the morning.

In his homily, the Pope exhorted the Middle Eastern Christians to stay in the Holy Land and give testimony to Jesus in this conflict-plagued region.

“Fidelity to your Christian roots, fidelity to the Church’s mission in the Holy Land demands of each of you a particular kind of courage: the courage of conviction, born of personal faith, not mere social convention or family tradition; the courage to engage in dialogue and to work side by side with other Christians in the service of the Gospel.”

In his farewell address in Amman on May 11, the Holy Father hailed Jordan as a model for peace and religious tolerance in the Middle East.

“I would like to encourage all Jordanians, whether Christian or Muslim, to build on the firm foundations of religious tolerance that enable the members of different communities to live together in peace and mutual respect,” he said.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II has gone to great lengths to foster interreligious dialogue, the Pope said. “This spirit of openness … has contributed to Jordan’s far-sighted political initiatives to build peace throughout the Middle East.”

Two-state solution

The Holy Father wasted no time getting down to business after touching down in Israel. He called for a Palestinian state in his first speech. He went on to meet with other religious leaders, visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and celebrate Mass in Nazareth for about 50,000 pilgrims.

Together with Israeli president Shimon Peres, the Pope planted an olive tree at the presidential palace as a sign of the close relationship between Jews and Christians. He called this gesture, along with meeting with Holocaust survivors at the Yad Vashem memorial, the most memorable of his pilgrimage to Israel.

“So many Jews … were brutally exterminated under a godless regime that propagated an ideology of anti-Semitism and hatred,” he said. “That appalling chapter of history must never be forgotten or denied.”

The Holy Father also met with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the Palestinian territories. He called the security wall separating Palestinians from Israelis “one of the saddest sights for me during my visit to these lands.” Acknowledging how hard it will be to achieve lasting peace, the Pope said said he had prayed “for a future in which the peoples of the Holy Land can live together in peace and harmony without the need for such instruments of security and separation.”

Patrick Novecosky is the editor of Legatus Magazine and the founder of The Praetorium. This article was published in the June 2009 issue of Legatus Magazine. He was in Jordan for Pope Benedict’s four-day visit to that country.

The papal drive-by

12 May
The site on the Jordan where Christ was baptized. (Patrick Novecosky photo)

The site on the Jordan where Christ was baptized. (Patrick Novecosky photo)

MAY 12, 2009 — As the pea gravel crunched beneath my feet, I couldn’t help but think of the Last Supper where Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. The chalky dust not only covered my shoes, but permeated the air as we walked the path to the spot where tradition says Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River.

Just an hour outside of Amman, Jordan, we were about two hours ahead of Pope Benedict’s arrival at the site, part of his four-day visit to the country. It was mid-afternoon on Sunday as our bus dropped off the crush of media covering the Pope’s visit to the Holy Land. Photographers and reporters from around the world were packed into three buses on this hot and dry day. Site staff gave us the option of waiting for the Pope in the parking lot where he would be greeted by Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Queen Rania — or we could walk a quarter mile down the pea gravel path to the Baptism Site. Most everyone chose the latter.

Waiting for the Pope at the baptism site.

Waiting for the Pope at the baptism site.

Dozens of us scoped out the best vantage point to view (and photograph) the Holy Father, who was to stop at a platform overlooking the spot designated as the place where John the Baptist christened Our Lord in the muddy waters of the Jordan. It wasn’t impressive. Scraggly bushes surrounded the area which seemed to be fed by a tributary from the river itself. However, archeological experts have determined that early Christians built a church to commemorate the spot as the place of Christ’s baptism. When the area flooded, they came back and built again. That resolve has convinced many that this was the biblical site of Bethany Beyond the Jordan described in John 1:28 and John 10:40.

The Holy Father with the King and Queen of Jordan. (Patrick Novecosky photo)

The Holy Father with the King and Queen of Jordan. (Patrick Novecosky photo)

I found a perfect spot to await the Holy Father, only 20 feet from the platform. After chatting with colleagues for about 90 minutes, a convoy of eight-passenger golf carts arrived with security personnel, followed by the Holy Father, the King, Queen, Prince Ghazi among others. The Holy Father’s vehicle stopped for five minutes as a site expert described the scene for the Pope. But rather than disembarking to take in the site from the viewing platform as planned, the papal cart spend on down the path to an awaiting crowd of about 800 pilgrims.

Greg Tarczynski, a well-known photographer for Catholic and other media outlets, had parked himself on the muddy river bank for nearly two hours to get a picture that was not to be. We all scrambled down the path to the stage where the Pope was to bless the cornerstones for two churches planned for the Baptism site — a Latin-rite church already under construction and a Melkite house of worship. However, the military security (who seem just as confused by the papal entourage’s change of plans) held us back. We found out later that we were detained until the royal entourage could leave the area.

The papal entourage.  (Patrick Novecosky photo)

The papal entourage. (Patrick Novecosky photo)

We got to the platform just as the ceremony got under way. I stood on a chair as close as possible to the stage and got a descent shot of the Pope blessing the cornerstones. After the papal convoy departed, we were blessed with an incredible view of the sun setting in the west, finally dipping below the horizon in the land where Jesus walked. A fitting end to a day I won’t soon forget.

Pope Benedict blesses two cornerstones.  (Patrick Novecosky photo)

Pope Benedict blesses two cornerstones. (Patrick Novecosky photo)

Kresta in the Afternoon

11 May

MAY 11, 2009 — I had the honor of being the final guest on Kresta in the Afternoon this afternoon live (via Skype) from Amman, Jordan. The daily program is produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard around the world on EWTN Radio and Sirius/XM Satellite Radio.

Host Al Kresta asked me about my time traveling with Pope Benedict XVI during his pastoral visit to Jordan. My four blog posts (1, 2, 3, 4) about the visit have been read by people from around the world. Al asked me about how well the Pope’s visit has been received among the predominantly Muslim nation. We also talked about the cultural differences between Jordan and the United States.

Click here to listen. (Opens in new window. 11:47 minutes).

The Good Shepherd

11 May

MAY 11, 2009 — It’s amazing to think that in a country with only 109,000 Catholics, nearly a third of them piled into Amman’s International Stadium on Sunday for an open-air papal Mass. After departing the media center at 6:00 am, I expected the horde of media (yours truly among them) would be among the first to arrive, but a few hundred hearty souls were already in the stands when we pulled shortly after 6:30.

Thousands await Pope Benedict XVI at Amman International Stadium on Sunday, May 10. (Patrick Novecosky photo)

Thousands await Pope Benedict XVI at Amman International Stadium on Sunday, May 10. (Patrick Novecosky photo)

I spent a few hours talking to media from around the world, my colleagues from America, and a few Jordanians. Organizers had tapped the Jordanian Scouts and Girl Guides to help with logistics and crowd control. At least 100 teens dressed in their blue uniforms answered pilgrims’ questions and helped form a human barrier between the congregation and the yellow and white sanctuary on the east side of the stadium. The youth presence at the Mass was impressive. Hundreds of young people cheered and sang long before the Holy Father’s arrival. A song written especially for the papal visit — “Benvenuto Benedetto” (Welcome, Benedict in Italian) — rang through the crowd dozens of times throughout the morning.

Pope Benedict XVI enters Amman International Stadium in the Popemobile on Sunday, May 10. (Patrick Novecosky photo)

Pope Benedict XVI enters Amman International Stadium in the Popemobile on Sunday, May 10. (Patrick Novecosky photo)

True to form, the Holy Father arrived in the Popemobile punctually around 9:30, circling the stadium to the roar of about 30,000 enthusiastic souls. The yellow and white themed sanctuary was decorated with a large image of Christ, the Good Shepherd, because the Eastern Church was celebrating the fourth Week of Easter and Good Shepherd Sunday. They marked Easter one week later than in the West. An image of Mary and John the Baptist, patron of Jordan, also adorned the sanctuary.

Jordanian-born Archbishop Fouad Twal, patriarch of Jerusalem, warmly welcomed the Pope in English. He joked that the Church in Jordan is having a “vocations crisis” because its seminary is bursting at the seams and is struggling to find housing for the men eager to enter the priesthood.

Pope Benedict XVI processes to the altar at the beginning of an open air Mass at Amman International Stadium on Sunday, May 10. (Patrick Novecosky photo)

Pope Benedict XVI processes to the altar at the beginning of an open air Mass at Amman International Stadium on Sunday, May 10. (Patrick Novecosky photo)

In his homily, the Pope exhorted the Middle Eastern Christians to stay in the Holy Land and give testimony to Jesus in this region so plagued by conflict.

“Fidelity to your Christian roots, fidelity to the Church’s mission in the Holy Land, demands of each of you a particular kind of courage: the courage of conviction, born of personal faith, not mere social convention or family tradition; the courage to engage in dialogue and to work side by side with other Christians in the service of the Gospel and solidarity with the poor, the displaced, and the victims of profound human tragedies,” he said.

An Iraqi Chaldean Catholic girl awaits her first Holy Communion from Pope Benedict XVI at Amman International Stadium on Sunday, May 10. (Patrick Novecosky photo)

An Iraqi Chaldean Catholic girl awaits her first Holy Communion from Pope Benedict XVI at Amman International Stadium on Sunday, May 10. (Patrick Novecosky photo)

The Mass concluded with 40 Iraqi Chaldean children receiving their first Holy Communion. Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, patriarch of Baghdad, was among the dozens of priests and bishops concelebrating with the Holy Father.

After Mass, I talked to an American journalist who writes for the Jordan Times. The reporter was impressed with the high energy of the Mass — a rarity in this predominantly Muslim country. It was truly a celebration of Jordanian Catholicism, leaving enduring memories for thousands of the country’s faithful.

The promised land

9 May

MAY 9, 2009 — Moses wandered in the desert for 40 years before he saw the Promised Land. It took me almost 41. But my wanderings haven’t all been in the desert. Earlier today, about 150 people — media, guests, and clergy — gathered atop Jordan’s Mt. Nebo where Moses gazed out upon the Dead See and the land God had promised. As we waited for Pope Benedict to arrive, I looked out upon the land below and imagined what Moses felt after completing his earthly journey knowing that God had been faithful to his promise.

The media and honored guests waited in the ruins of a 6th-century church honoring Moses. It had replaced a 4th century church. When John Paul II visited Mt. Nebo in 2000, the church had a temporary roof and was functioning. Today, the roof and most of the support structure had been removed for a substantial restoration effort. The media perched upon dusty ancient walls and scrambled for the best vantage point to view the Holy Father give his speech.

Pope Benedict prepares to address pilgrims and media atop Jordan's Mt Nebo

Pope Benedict prepares to address pilgrims and media atop Jordan's Mt Nebo

When Pope Benedict arrived, shortly after 9 am, he was greeted with sustained applause. The brief service included a reading from Deuteronomy, recalling how Moses had seen the promised land, died, and was buried on the very mountain were on — 700 meters above the plain below.

The Holy Father said, “It is appropriate that my pilgrimage should begin on this mountain.” This holy place, he said, should remind all Christians to “undertake a daily exodus from sin and slavery to life and freedom.

“The magnificent prospect which opens up from the esplanade of this shrine invites us to ponder how that prophetic vision mysteriously embraced the great plan of salvation which God prepared for his people,” he said.

“Like Moses, we too have been called by name, invited to undertake a daily exodus from sin and slavery towards life and freedom, and given an unshakeable promise to guide our journey. In the waters of Baptism, we have passed from the slavery of sin to new life and hope.”

Pope Benedict gazes upon "the promised land" where Moses once stood atop Jordan's Mt Nebo

Pope Benedict gazes upon "the promised land" where Moses once stood atop Jordan's Mt Nebo

The Holy Father then walked 100 yards to a viewing platform and spent five minutes taking in view of the land bordering Israel, under the towering Brazen Serpent sculpture by Italian artist Giovanni Fantoni, before departing in the Popemobile.

After the Pope departed, I took my turn at the platform. I’ll post a photo when I have a few more minutes. Needless to say, the view is spectacular. Despite the years that have passed since Moses stood here, only one winding road has marred the landscape. Otherwise, it must have looked much as it does today. I’m confident that Moses left this spot confident that God had indeed been faithful and kept his promise. I couldn’t help but do the same.

…..

On Saturday afternoon, about 60 journalists boarded buses to St. George Melkite Cathedral in Amman. After waiting for about 90 minutes, the Holy Father arrived around 5:30 pm for a vespers service. From my perch in the choir loft, we had a phenomenal view of the fervent crowd of about 400 Greek Catholics gathered for the event. They greeted the Pope with incredible enthusiasm, testing the security details ability to keep him from being mobbed.

Pope Benedict prepares to address the faithful at St. George Melkite Cathedral in Amman, Jordan, on May 9.

Pope Benedict prepares to address the faithful at St. George Melkite Cathedral in Amman, Jordan, on May 9.

The hour-long service included heavenly music from several choirs who chanted and sang in Latin, Greek, and Arabic. The dignitaries included members of the Roman Curia — Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Cardinal John Foley — and Orthodox Archbishop Benediktos Tsikoras as well leaders of a string of Eastern churches in union with Rome.

The Holy Father expressed his sincere thanks for the “opportunity to pray with you and to experience something of the richness of our liturgical traditions.”

“The Church herself is a pilgrim people and thus, through the centuries, has been marked by determinant historical events and pervading cultural epochs,” the Pope remarked. “Sadly, some of these have included times of theological dispute or periods of repression.”

“Others, however, have been moments of reconciliation — marvelously strengthening the communion of the Church — and times of rich cultural revival, to which Eastern Christians have contributed so greatly,” he continued.

Pope Benedict blesses the faithful gathered for vespers at St. George Melkite Cathedral in Amman, Jordan, on May 9.

Pope Benedict blesses the faithful gathered for vespers at St. George Melkite Cathedral in Amman, Jordan, on May 9.

“Particular Churches,” the Pope explained, “within the universal Church attest to the dynamism of her earthly journey and manifest to all members of the faithful a treasure of spiritual, liturgical, and ecclesiastical traditions which point to God’s universal goodness and his will, seen throughout history, to draw all into his divine life.”

As he left the cathedral, the devoted pilgrims again tested security in what, at times, seemed like a bit of a shoving match. However, the Pope seemed unfazed by the adulation as he beamed with joy and stretched to touch as many as he could. His Sunday Mass at Amman’s largest stadium will give even more of the faithful the opportunity to see the Pilgrim Pope.

On the ground in Jordan

7 May

MAY 7, 2009 — After months of planning and anticipation, I’m sitting on Royal Jordanian Flight 264, a direct flight from Chicago to Amman, Jordan.

This will be a short post because I’m tapping this out on my iPhone. In 12 hours, we will land 6,228 miles from home! What an adventure.

The Pope will be in the air to Jordan before we land … and he will land before we do. Time to fly!

…..

After a pleasant flight of limited sleep while cruising at 41,000 feet, I noticed the monitor said it was -83C outside. I pulled the blanket up over my head and was thankful for the airplane’s heating system. Before long it was morning… if you can call it that. We left Chicago at 9 pm, which was the middle of the night in Jordan. So morning was morning… but not really. The airplane breakfast cart came by with something that resembled (but didn’t taste like) breakfast at about 2 pm Jordan time, which stuck me as odd. However, the thought passed quickly.

By 4:30 pm, we were safely on the ground, briskly passing through security thanks to our hosts, the good folks at the JTB (Jordanian Tourism Bureau). I’m keeping company with four other U.S. journalists as part of this press tour. We joined a larger entourage of media from around the world at the Jordanian Cultural Center in downtown Amman at around 6:30 pm. After a press briefing in Arabic (I understood the Arabic words for “Pope” and “Roman Catholic”). Other than that, nada.

However, our group snagged a 10-minute audience with the spokesman for the Catholic Church in Jordan, Fr. Rifat Bader. He repeated the reason for the Holy Father’s pastoral visit: peace. “The Pope is coming to encourage pacemakers, peace-dreamers and all citizens of the Middle East,” he said.

Father Bader mentioned that the Holy Father broke protocol this afternoon in front of the Regina Pacis (Queen of Peace) Center this afternoon. He made a slight detour from the schedule to greet the young people who had been waiting for hours for the Pope’s arrival. “These are the future of the Church,” Fr. Bader said of the young people.

We then met with Islamic scholar Dr. Sheik Hamdi Murad who gave us a Muslim perspective on the papal visit. He was excited that the Holy Father was in town. He said the meeting between Jordan’s King Abdullah II and the Pope Benedict this morning “wasn’t a national event, but an important international event between Christians and Muslims.” He saw it as a historical meeting between two men of faith. The Sheik said that the tensions between the Pope and Muslims created by the Pope’s address in Regensburg, Germany, almost three years ago is in the past. “The page has turned,” he explained.

Jordan has about 200,000 Christians (4% of the population), half of whom are Catholic. Pope Benedict is the third pope to visit Jordan. Pope Paul was the first, visiting in 1964. John Paul II made his historic visit in 2000. I expect to see the fruit of these visits in the days and years to come.