Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
May 15, 2000
Pope in Holy Land as penitent, healer
While making a valiant attempt at spring cleaning the other day, I came across a forgotten letter from the Vatican Secretariat of State, signed by a Monsignor Re.
It states briefly: "I am directed to acknowledge the letter and enclosures which you sent to His Holiness Pope John Paul II and I would assure you that the contents have been noted. With good wishes," etc.
I can't remember the enclosures, but I clearly remember what prompted me to write His Holiness almost two decades ago. I had just watched a black and white television report of the pope shaking his finger at a surprised Father Ernesto Cardenal who had knelt down to kiss the papal ring.
The Nicaraguan visit seemed to lurch from one fiasco to the next. With John Paul's "Silencio!" to the pleas of the mothers of the martyrs still ringing in my ears, I wrote the Holy Father to cancel his coming trip to Canada unless he was prepared to sit and listen to Canada's forgotten people, the native people.
It would be highly presumptuous to believe that my letter had any effect on Vatican policy, but it is nice to know that the "contents were noted." What I suspect happened is that the conservative Cardinal Obando y Bravo and his colleagues briefed the pope for his Nicaraguan trip.
For his Canadian visit he was briefed by the progressive Canadian bishops and their advisers. The contrast between the two papal visits was astounding.
Not only did the pope listen carefully to the First Nations people but he confirmed that Jesus was one of them.
He also reminded us in strong terms that there had been too much "silencio" about the grave injustices with respect to Third World poverty and that we would be judged accordingly.
I have to admit that over the past two decades I have been both pleased and disappointed with some of the statements, decisions and policies that have come out of the Vatican. To what extent the pope or the Curia is responsible for the official pronouncements, I don't know.
Well, there has been another papal visit of note, this time to the Middle East. In fairness I should climb in my pen again and write His Holiness a letter of congratulations.
The pope had not only made this his personal pilgrimage to some of the most sacred sites in the Holy Land, but he travelled on our behalf as head of the pilgrim Church. He came humbly as both penitent and healer.
Gone was the arrogance of previous centuries in which we proclaimed to be the perfect society and possessor of the fullness of truth and the only channel of salvation.
On March 12, prior to the visit, the Church had publicly confessed its failings as an organization, not just an apology for the sins of its wayward members.
The admission was that the Church itself had erred through sins committed in the service of truth, sins against the unity of the Mystical Body, sins committed against love, peace, human rights and the dignity of women; and finally sins committed against Jews and Muslims.
While in the Holy Land the pope reached out in prayer and in a plea for brother/sisterhood to the two other Abrahamic religious communities.
The slate is perhaps not magically wiped clean, and centuries of animosity and outright hatred are not immediately forgotten and forgiven.
But a repentant Church is in a better position to enter the next millennium with an emphasis on love of neighbour instead of love and power, and a focus on mission instead of maintenance.
We have been declared vulnerable and even our fellow Christians of other denominations might begin to look upon us more kindly.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.