The Pope and the People

In anticipation of the pope’s visit this week, various pundits (example) are churning out columns saying Pope Benedict XVI doesn’t connect with Catholics in America. Others suggest he’s not really known. Others suggest he turns off young adults.

Horse hockey.

This pope was probably better known at the time of his election than any other pope in history. He was loved by many (including active young adults, considerable numbers of whom were actually acquainted with his books) and hated by many (especially chancery bureaucrats).

I recall the day he stepped out onto the balcony–I was watching with many co-workers of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston at the Chancery at St. Dominic’s Center. There were two reactions when the cardinal intoned, “Josephum,” both extreme: love and hate. Some chancery officials looked dumbstruck. Shock, revulsion, disbelief, hate–all these things could be read in their faces. One department head said, “It’s time for another nine days of mourning.” An assistant director said, “We can pray for another thirty day pontificate.” Another said, “The Episcopal church is looking better all the time.” Meanwhile, many of the secretaries, and most of my campus ministry employees, and some visitors, were cheering out loud. A group of us went out to eat to celebrate immediately afterwards. At St. Mary’s Seminary, I was told, the seminarians erupted in cheers, to the chagrin of some of their faculty.

I went to Rome in the summer of 2005, and the group of students I went with were as much in love with him as for his predecessor. The piazza was filled, the crowd cheered–just as it will in New York and Washington.

The media don’t understand why Catholics would love him–they better understand those who hate him or dismiss him. Will that change this week? It’s hard to say. These guys have their stories written already.