Friday, April 04, 2008

Foreseeing the Visit

Since the Stateside nuncio Archbishop Pietro Sambi started down a press-blitz in recent weeks, the interview requests have piled up at 3339 Massachusetts Ave NW -- or, as it'll soon be better known, the Papal Residence in Washington.

In his latest and most extensive comments yet on the 15-20 April apostolic journey, Sambi -- who organized two prior papal trips as a nuncio: John Paul II's 1990 stop in Burundi and the Polish Pope's 2000 pilgrimage to the Holy Land -- spoke with the National Catholic Reporter's John Allen in the latter's customary Friday Column.

To repeat an earlier word of advice, given the emergence of this Every-One-a-Vaticanologist climate in advance of the trip, the insights of the visit's lead planner and spokesman-in-chief -- who formally announced the event at last November's plenary of the US bishops -- are worth considerably more than anything else you've seen out there.....

Money quotes -- read carefully:
Do you see it as your job to help ensure that the visit is not distorted by the lens of partisan politics?
Yes. The visit should be seen and interpreted in the spirit with which the pope himself comes to the United States, and not be instrumentalized. It's always a sign of weakness to instrumentalize someone else. It means that you don't have a clear purpose or vision, and so you have to manipulate others for your own interests....

Have you personally shared some thoughts with the Holy Father about the trip?
I'm not paid to sit here and do nothing!

In broad terms, what do you expect the pope's message will be?
There have been many failed prophets who have tried to anticipate what the pope will say here and there. I can tell you only that what the pope will say, the pope himself knows, and nobody else.

You have not seen the texts of his speeches?
No. And if I have not seen them, others have surely not seen them!...

How would you analyze the situation facing the Catholic church in the United States?
When you are a minority, as Catholics are in this culture, you need three strong principles. The first is a clear identity, a clear sense of what you are and what you want to be. As a minority, if you lack a clear identity, you're like a drop of wine in a glass of water … you'll disappear. The second thing is a strong sense of belonging. I would express it in this way: you need a community, and the community needs you. Whoever walks alone sooner or later will be lost in the desert. Third, when you are a minority, you need a deep commitment to excellence. You must excel in human qualities, in family qualities, in professional qualities, in the qualities of Christian life, in order to be a light for others. If you don't have a sense of excellence, you will be submerged by the majority.

When you have these three qualities -- a clear identity, a sense of belonging, and a sense of excellence -- then you're ready to collaborate with everybody, ready to engage yourself for a better humanity and a better future.

Let's talk about the meeting with Catholic educators, including the presidents of Catholic colleges and universities. There's been some speculation that the pope is going to read educators the riot act on matters of Catholic identity.
Even in the Catholic church, nobody has the right to instrumentalize the visit of the pope to serve their personal interests!

You feel there's been some of that?
Yes, there has been. Look, for a great part of his life, the pope was an educator. Actually, as pope he's still an educator. It's simply normal, therefore, that the pope would address the educators of the United States. He will touch the problem of Catholic identity, of course, but this is absolutely normal. If you don't have a clear sense of identity in education, you don't produce happy people, you produce disoriented people. One of the main purposes of education is to show young people how to face life, how to find joy in life, not just momentary satisfaction that creates a sense of emptiness. These are deep truths that shouldn't be abused in internal church arguments.

You feel that speculation about the pope reprimanding educators has been stoked by people with axes to grind?
The problem is that there are too many people here who would like to be the pope …and who attribute to themselves a strong sense of their own infallibility!...

Why is he not going to Boston?
Look, he's 80 years old. While he's here, he'll celebrate his 81st birthday. You ask why he's not going to Boston, but you could also ask why he's not going to San Francisco or some other place. He just can't go everywhere. He will speak to Boston, and to San Francisco … from New York and Washington. He will speak to all the people of the United States, including all the Catholics of the United States.

Boston was the epicenter of the crisis. Some might argue that he's avoiding the sex abuse crisis by not going there.
No, he's not avoiding it. I can assure you that he's not avoiding it. Be patient, and you will see that he's not avoiding the problem. He's not the kind of man who hides from difficulties. He's too sincere, both before God and before his brothers and sisters.

Why isn't the pope meeting with victims?
How do you know that he won't?

It's not part of the official program.
Yes, that's right. It's not part of the official program.

Do you think there might be a moment for such a meeting unofficially?
It's not important what I think. It's important what will happen.

So it's possible?
It's within the field of possibility, but I cannot confirm anything....

At the end of the day, how will the Catholic church in the United States be different because of this trip?
I would say that the church in the United States should make more and more evident a spirit of service to the faithful in the name of Jesus Christ. My experience is that where you have a parish priest who is truly dedicated to the service of his parish, the sex scandals have not produced great damages. In dioceses where the bishop is a really good pastor, at the service of the Gospel and of the faithful, the sex scandal has not had a very bad impact. The way to move forward is through a deeper spirituality in serving God and serving others. This trip will be a strong push in that direction.