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I am a medievalist and an adjunct college instructor in the humanities at Union College. My research includes medieval theologies of history, text/image relationships in visionary and mystical texts, and the writings of the twelfth-century Doctor of the Church, St. Hildegard of Bingen. I am also a translator of medieval Latin and German texts, especially as relate to my research. I completed a Master's in Medieval Studies at the University of Notre Dame in 2010, a Fulbright Fellowship in Germany in 2008, and a B.A. in Classics and German at Boston College in 2007.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The German Pope and His Visit to America

As Pope Benedict XVI visited the United States last week, I followed the news of his trip eagerly through the American online press. I was surprised, however, to see the interest taken in his trip by the Germans I encounter in my daily life. During each of the six days of the Pope’s trip, one of the prayer intentions at Mass here was for his safety and for the efficacy of his pastoral visit to the United States. This was the first time (that I could remember) that a specific Mass intention was added during one of the Pontiff’s international trips.

Although that part of his visit that was the most astounding for me as an American (and this resonated surely in the American press) was his candid and repeated focus on the shameful tragedy of the sexual abuse scandal that erupted at the beginning of this decade, the German attention was more circumspect. It quickly became clear to me that the people here recognized that the pastoral importance and, indeed, necessity of the Pope’s mission—the prayers offered at Mass sought especially for the pastoral healing of the American flock; but the trigger of the American church’s crisis of faith, namely, the sexual abuse scandal, was not acknowledged as such. Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to determine whether this results from a lack of awareness of the specific causes of the current American malady, or rather from a reticence to speak of the admittedly shameful specifics.

A further issue I have yet to fully understand is the impetus driving the Germans to take such an interest in this visit. Is it merely a by-product of the heightened interest they take in the papacy of the German Shepherd? Yet, I have seen a much keener attention to the Pope’s visit to the United States than to his other actions over the last half-year. Is it, rather, that Germans, and especially German Catholics (?), take a more pointed interest in the United States because of the intimate relationship between our two countries since the end of the Second World War?

Whatever the cause, it warmed my heart dearly this morning to find the following picture on the front page of the latest issue of Kirche+Leben (“Church+Life”), the weekly newspaper of the Diocese of Münster:

Here is a translation of the article that accompanied the photo:

“Like the President: Cheers for the Pope”

It is no secret that Benedict XVI loves Italian, French, German, and of course Latin, but has no particularly intensive regard for the English language. These students from the Pope John Paul II High School in Nashville tried to accommodate the Pope in that regard when he visited Washington and New York last week: they waited for him with victory signs, thumbs-up, joyful faces, and signs in heartfelt, if not also completely correct, German. About 75 percent of Catholics and the majority of non-Catholics have a positive opinion of Benedict XVI, although 80 percent say that they “don’t know much” about him. Kirche+Leben will give a complete report of the Pope’s trip to the U.S. in the next issue.

[N.B. After following the Pope’s trip last week, I have to disagree with this newspaper’s account of his English; perhaps it was at one time true (I remember when I was in Rome two and half years ago, his English was almost incomprehensibly accented), but the Pope has clearly demonstrated that he has worked hard to improve his English, especially in preparation for his recent trip. Though I am still amused by his pronunciation of “country” as “cown-tree”.

Also, as to the “not completely correct” German: the signs should read “Wilkommen Heiliger Vater”.]

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