Papal Visit Round-Up

Just wanted to round-up a few of the best sources for reliable information as Benedict's visit to the U.S. begins today, and then add my own two cents...

Rocco at Whispers in the Loggia is obviously the norma non normata of Vaticana these days. Expect him to have the earliest scoops and the best inside information.

Another great source is David Gibson's blog on the papal visit entitled "Benedictions" and sponsored by Beliefnet. Where Rocco brings a heartwarming admiration to the table, Gibson also has the critical, sometimes cynical eye of a seasoned journalist, but with (shock) actual knowledge of the Catholic Church and an ability to distinguish big issues from side issues. And he's fun - check out his article in the Star-Ledger (yes, the New Jersey Star-Ledger) on papal fashion choices.

The New York Times has the fanciest pope visit page, combining some of this past weekend's journalism on the current state of the Catholic Church in the U.S. with live reports on everything that's happening. Expect them to have the best pictures. Crucially, they also have an updating schedule up, so if you've got a map of the eastern seaboard and a little yellow tack, you can follow the pope like a hurricane up the coast.

The Boston Globe also has a good page on the visit, and Michael Paulson is a long-standing, careful observer of things Catholic; though less flashy than the NY Times page, my money's on his analysis's being a bit more insightful.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has shown a good deal of media savvy for the trip, and has their own, high quality blog on the papal visit. It's almost entirely the official line-up of who's who and why they're important, but it will be a good source for photos as well.

If you're following the visit from home, most major television carriers will no doubt be carrying it. EWTN will be streaming it all (and smoke, drink, or donate some money to the Democratic Party at the same time, if you want to offset your possible support for their advertisers...). And you can follow along using the papal missal for the trip, released last week by the Vatican in pdf form.

So what am I thinking about all of this?

Well, I think it would be difficult to be a Roman Catholic Christian and not feel a great deal of excitement and pride about the visit of a pope. For someone raised within the church, the sheer visual and musical spectacle of it all hits all sorts of deep nerves within me. I'm particularly struck/excited by the proposal to ring bells in Catholic churches across the country at 4 pm today EDT, the time of Benedict's plane's arrival.

I respectfully disagree with some of what this particular pope has done, both as the prefect of the CDF where he hurt people who were close to me, and even now as pope. But on the other hand, this is one of those occasions, almost like a funeral or wedding, where one puts aside some of those differences. If he's truly functioning as a symbol not of his own sometimes poor, IMHO, choices, but as a symbol of the universal church and its presence with our own churches here in the United States, then a papal visit cannot but help remind us of that. Plus, B16 is simply a better theologian than JPII, so if John Paul's visits were focused on the question of what John Paul did, I'll be looking on this trip to see what Benedict says.

And yet I think that my experiences -- as a gay man, as a theologian, as a feminist, as an overly-educated academic -- will give me a sense of distance from some of the visit. I can't but approach this visit without some serious question, and while that might be dismissed as not "getting into the spirit of the thing," I think it's actually a saving grace in a quite literal sense. B16 knows (and, I think, knows better than his immediate predecessor) the danger of the pope-as-spectacle becoming a focus for a cult of personality, for an idolatry that places the pope in the place of Christ. After all, he was a child in Nazi Germany, he knows how easily this very human excitement at being fascinated by the spectacle, at being caught up in the moment and losing oneself in the crowd, can be turned, twisted, and misused for something grotesque. So, bottom line, I'll be watching for the next few days with real, unfeigned excitement, and yet with a bit of a critical eye. I think my own experiences, and my generational location, may have saved me from the untrammeled cynicism about all things papal that I find in some of my elders, as well as from some of the uncritical papolatry, in the strict sense, of some of my peers.

I'll be glued to the TV with the rest of America, and I'll be sincerely praying with and for the pope on this trip - but one of my students attending the Mass at Yankees Stadium has instructions to acquire a Benedict XVI popener for me (a papal-themed bottle opener....)

Viva il papa!

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