- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States presents us with an important opportunity. The pope arrives at a unique moment in American history, where the questions of faith and morality are on the cusp of our nation’s consciousness. While media coverage of the pope’s visit will likely focus on its immediate impact on the politics of the day — and especially the influence on the “Catholic vote” in the November election — perhaps we can get beyond the headlines and dig a little deeper.

For several days on the front of our nation’s newspapers and on our television screens will be a man with an important message. Benedict XVI will give several significant addresses in his five days on American soil, offering a coherent and hopeful message about humanity’s future.

Firstly, the pope does not come with a political message. In fact, he does not come primarily with a moral message. First and foremost, the pope will preach the faith that is known and believed by Christians the world over.He will proclaim a message not unfamiliar to our country’s people, as his message will be the same one heard Sunday after Sunday in churches throughout America.

The message, of course, is the person of Jesus Christ. It is not the message of Joseph Ratzinger but the message of Jesus of Nazareth. As he has said before, “the happiness you seek, the happiness you have a right to enjoy, has a name and a face, Jesus of Nazareth.”

Benedict’s visit will ultimately be one of hope. He tells us, “the one who hopes lives differently.” He will invite us to a different kind of life: not simply a moral conversion, but a conversion of our whole way of being. He will tell us we are more than we think we are, with a dignity — and a destiny — beyond our imagining.

His words though will no doubt have moral implications. He will assuredly call us to a deeper respect for all human life. In a nation as prosperous as ours, it is a crime that a quarter of pregnancies end in abortion. The pope will tell us what we already know — that every life, at every stage and in every place, is a beautiful and unique child of God. That message should not divide us, but rather help us to see each other as inextricably bound together in one human family.

In the same vein, Benedict’s concern about the crisis of marriage and family in our country is likely to receive mention. A nation without strong and vibrant families cannot persist. The pope speaks often of the need to proclaim the truth — a truth we know from all the social data and in our hearts. The best place — not the only place, but the best place — to raise a child is between a mom and dad bonded together for life.

Finally, most of all I think he will be concerned about the vitality of faith in America. I have long said that the separation of church and state should not mean the exclusion of faith from public life. We should celebrate faith. In fact, we should honor and revere it. That does not mean the government prefers one faith over another. I like what Mother Teresa said, “I love all religions. I am in love with my own.”

Benedict knows that if America is to have a strong future it cannot be based on a “dictatorship of relativism” or militant secularism but on the authentic freedom of a vibrant culture of faith.

The visit of Benedict XVI is an opportunity for a country and a people at a crossroads. It is the chance certainly to welcome a champion of religious freedom and human rights — a man with a crucial message for today’s world. More than that, however, it is an opportunity far more personal.

During these days, one’s own relationship with God will be brought to the forefront. For perhaps just a moment, the daily grind will come to a halt. A man from a far country is proclaiming a message too important to dismiss. It is the same message for which men long ago abandoned fishing boats on the Sea of Galilee. It is the message that love has come among us as a man and invited us to be friends with Him.

The message of Benedict XVI deserves a welcoming ear, not just from Christians, but from all Americans. While our nation’s churches will not immediately fill up following his visit, perhaps we can hope for something more modest: an ever-so-slight movement closer to the recognition that we are all one human family.

These days offer the chance to reflect on things eternal: life and love, Heaven and Hell, human frailty and human destiny. My prayer is that we do not pass it up.

Sen. Sam Brownback, a Republican, is from Kansas.


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