Sunday, June 3, 2007

Cardinal O'Malley invites Pope to Boston next year

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff June 3, 2007

Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley has invited Pope Benedict XVI to come to Boston next year, saying a visit to the city that was at the heart of the clergy abuse scandal would send a positive message to Catholics.

O'Malley said he is hopeful that the pope will accept the invitation because 2008 is both the bicentennial of the Archdiocese of Boston and because Benedict is already expected to come to the country to visit the United Nations.

"Given everything Boston has been through, having the Holy Father come, I think, would be a great joy and a sense of affirmation to us as we celebrate the 200th anniversary of our church," O'Malley, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Boston, said in re sponse to a question from the Globe. "I've invited him, and I'm hoping that he will come to Boston."

A pope has visited Boston, the fourth largest diocese in the United States with an estimated 2 million Catholics, only once: John Paul II came to Boston in 1979, and celebrated Mass for more than 400,000 rain-soaked people on Boston Common.

The Vatican has not yet announced a date for the UN visit, but has confirmed that Benedict intends to visit the UN, and speculation has focused on next year for the trip. Benedict already has several competing invitations from American and Canadian bishops, and is likely to get more as the visit, his first North American visit as pontiff, approaches.

Boston presents symbolic opportunities and risks for the pontiff, given that the sexual abuse crisis erupted here in 2002, and the archdiocese has been struggling to repair its reputation and its finances ever since.

"On the one hand, if Benedict decides one thing he wants to do is give a gesture of pastoral sensitivity with regard to the crisis, the obvious best place to go would be Boston," said John L. Allen Jr. , senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter and author of "The Rise of Benedict XVI."

"On the other hand, there would be some voices, among the American bishops and at the Vatican, that would be concerned about putting the pope in a hornet's nest, and the potential for negative reaction or protest. The gut reaction of most churchmen about the pope going to Boston would be ambivalence."

Allen said Benedict will almost certainly visit some American cities, saying "the guy's not going to fly over to New York just to go to the UN," but that the decision about particular destinations will be "a delicate minuet involving the Secretary of State at the Vatican, the American bishops' conference, and the American cardinals, each of whom will have their own views." Allen added that on Benedict's trip to Brazil last month -- his only previous transatlantic journey as pope -- he visited just two cities, in close proximity to one another, which might suggest that after a visit to the UN, Benedict would choose another Northeastern city, in addition to New York, to keep travel to a minimum.

"A lot will depend, I think, on his own health and strength," O'Malley said. "He seems to have withstood the trip to Brazil very well. He still has a trip to Australia [for World Youth Day in July 2008] ahead of him, and he's a man 80 years old. But we would love to have him to Boston. I've expressed that to him, and I think the fact that he's accepted an invitation to the UN is a hopeful sign."

The last papal trip to the United States was in 1999, when Pope John Paul II visited St. Louis. That trip was John Paul's seventh to the United States; he had visited the UN in 1979 and 1995, but he notably skipped over the country during a trip to North America in 2002, visiting Canada and Mexico the year the abuse crisis exploded.

Benedict, who became pope after John Paul II's death in 2005, has taken five trips outside Italy thus far -- to his home country of Germany, to John Paul II's home country of Poland, and to Spain, Turkey, and Brazil. The Vatican has said it does not expect him to travel again this year, but he is planning to attend World Youth Day in Sydney next year, and the pope's spokesman has said that the pope has accepted an invitation from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to visit UN headquarters in New York.

No dates have been set for the pope's visit, according to the Rev. Vittorio Guerrera , a spokesman for the Holy See mission to the UN. A spokesman for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, William Ryan , also had no details about the visit to the UN or any additional stops in North America, but said, "It's not uncommon for a diocese to invite the Holy Father. Of course, it's exciting to think about, but perhaps a little early."

A spokesman for O'Malley said there is no way of knowing how likely a visit is.
"I honestly don't think we have any sense right now whether he will accept or not," said the spokesman, Terrence C. Donilon . "As you can imagine we might not hear for some time his response. We hope he does visit. But no one has any unrealistic expectations at this point, particularly when we are but one of many dioceses, here in the U S and around the world, that would love to host a visit from the Holy Father."

Pope John Paul II's Boston visit was one of the most memorable public events ever in the city; the first stop in America by the first Polish pope in the first year of his papacy, the Mass, and his ride through the city were watched by hundreds of thousands of people in the streets, on the Common, and on live television.

"It was mind-boggling for the Catholic people to think that the pope would come to Boston and celebrate Mass on the Boston Common, and most of the people just stayed there in the midst of a torrential wind-and-rainstorm -- people will even leave the Red Sox game under those kinds of conditions, but they didn't bail out on the pope," said Monsignor William M. Helmick , who in 1979 was the archdiocesan coordinator of the papal visit, and now serves as pastor of St. Theresa of Avila Church in West Roxbury.

"I was in the motorcade that went from the Common to the cardinal's residence in Brighton, and all the people on Beacon Street came roaring out of their apartments -- there could have been another half-million people on the streets, and when we went by Boston University the BU band was out there playing the papal anthem. It was good for the pope to see our people, and it was good for people to see the pope," he said.

The prospect of Benedict's first papal visit to the United States has triggered invitations from several North American prelates in addition to O'Malley. Chief among them is Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec. Ouellet is close to Benedict, and is hosting a large conference, called a Eucharistic Congress, in Quebec City in June 2008.

In the United States, Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore is also making a push for a visit.
"Following the announcement of his intention to visit the UN, the cardinal extended an invitation for the pope to come to Baltimore to see the newly-restored basilica -- America's first cathedral -- and a new soup kitchen/resource center for the disadvantaged, Our Daily Bread Employment Center," said Keeler's spokesman, Sean Caine .

Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York has the easiest case to make, because the UN is headquartered in his city; Egan's spokesman, Joseph Zwilling , said that "We are very much looking forward to learning more details of the Holy Father's visit to the United Nations, and certainly hope and anticipate that it will include a pastoral visit to the Archdiocese of New York."
And in Chicago, Cardinal Francis E. George has a standing invitation to the pope. "The cardinal invited the pope to Chicago the day he was elected pope," said George's spokeswoman, Colleen Dolan .

1 comment:

  1. "..people will even leave the Red Sox game under those kinds of conditions, but they didn't bail out on the pope..."

    Glad to know even Red Sox fans have enough brains to get their priorities straight there. Sometimes I wonder...