Monday, April 14, 2008

"That Speech"...

You'll forgive me, but a little Hometown Pride -- especially necessary in a rival NL East town -- is in order.

Looking at B16's itinerary, Philly mightn't have made the cut for this visit... but come Thursday, what the advance coverage has made the most hyped-up message of the trip -- not the public liturgical discourses, but B16's speech to the education community at the Catholic University of America -- will, in fact, be hosted by a son of Pharaohdom: the university's president, Vincentian Fr David O'Connell.

The Northeast native's been on a blitz of his own of late, recently sitting down with the River City's CBS affiliate for a long interview on the preparations and popping up earlier today on an NPR preview panel (...all before, word has it, getting a spin in the Popemobile in the days to come).

In the face of intense speculation that the PopeTalk before an audience of US Catholic university presidents, diocesan superintendents of education and the university's Board of Trustees would be notably stringent, the Father-President wrote in a mid-March letter to the Washington Post that he "could not disagree more with those who predict a 'stern message' and a 'rebuke'" coming from the former Prof. Ratzinger.

"The fact that the pope, as teacher of the faith, takes on the compromises advanced within contemporary culture, pushes hard against moral relativism, and seeks to present the intelligibility of the alliance between faith and reason in the quest for truth does not constitute an attack on the Catholic academy," he added. "They are the very things that Catholic universities and colleges, too, should be considering, precisely because they are Catholic.

"Positive messages do not often make headlines," O'Connell wrote. "Controversies -- real or imagined -- do.

"The suggestion that the pope is coming to the United States with a hammer for Catholic educational leaders is not only premature but also prejudicial. Instead of condemning Catholic universities and colleges for what may be perceived as failures -- and failures do exist -- the pope might very well thank Catholic educational institutions for being beacons of light in a society that sometimes prefers darkness."

Having submitted the usual bullet-point briefing Benedict requests from every event host, O'Connell would seemingly have a better idea of what's coming better than most. A trained canonist, recreational painter -- and, in his down-time, keen movie buff and occasional karaoke star -- the CU prez marks a decade at the helm of the US church's official institute of higher education later this year.

Long before his arrival, however, Benedict had his eye on Brookland; late last month, at his personal request, the university hosted a symposium on the natural law, a topic expected to come up in both the pontiff's UN address on Friday and his impending "social encyclical," which current reports have tipped for a pre-summer release.

Tonight at 8, a candlelight Rosary vigil will cross the CU campus, where from Wednesday evening -- between the Pope's two stops there -- an all-night prayer vigil is to take place, including on-the-hour readings from the writings of Joseph Ratzinger. The gathering's scheduled to end at sunrise.

Established in 1887 by the US bishops and initially chartered by Pope Leo XIII, CUA was one of the handful of stops the pontiff specifically requested for this visit. The university's traditional Founder's Day -- normally celebrated on 10 April to mark the date of its green-light from the late 19th century pontiff -- has been delayed a week to mark Benedict's presence on campus.

PHOTOS: AP/Jacquelyn Martin(2)