Yes, my friends, the day has almost arrived. Deo Gratias! Only a few short hours remain before the Holy Father touches down at Andrews Air Force Base for his first visit to American soil. I'm both happy and frustrated at the same time – happy that he is coming to the United States relatively soon after his elevation to the See of Peter, but frustrated at the timing. As I'm sure you are aware, I'm in the middle of the push toward exams here at the law school, which means there is no way I can get away to go up to D.C. To be fair, I've seen him in person already (at the Vatican in 2005…sorry, I'm still working on a better way to incorporate photos in to these posts), so I'm not that annoyed. But still, it's unfortunate.
There has been a lot of press recently about the pope's "approval ratings" among Americans. For the most part, the results are encouraging. According to CNN, 80% of people they surveyed had a favorable view of the pope. This is higher than I might have expected, and that is a good sign. However, there have been more telling opinions published in recent days that claim to have found deeper problems with the views of American Catholics. This article from Slate claims that the more "orthodox" members of the Church are displeased with Benedict's perceived moderation, and there is a veritable plethora of opinions from "progressive" Catholic sources pining for change in the Church and in the papacy. These people were the same ones who lamented Benedict's election in 2005 as the end of whatever hope they had of gaining ground on the issues of clerical celibacy, female priests, and the like. In short, the more progressive members of the Church argue that Benedict has already gone too far in cracking down on touchy subjects, while the conservative members argue that he has not gone far enough in such matters.
While I obviously lean toward the "orthodox" side of things, what people on both sides fail to realize is that the office of pope is unlike any other. His position as the pastoral leader of Christians all over the world is not the same as the one he had as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It was Joseph Ratzinger's job there to be the watchdog of the Church, so to speak. It is the job of Benedict XVI to be the Vicar of Christ on Earth, and because he is such a gentle and insightful man, he realized from the very beginning that this was necessary.
All of this aside, I firmly believe that Benedict's trip across the pond will unite Catholics as well as people of all faith traditions. After all, how often does the spiritual leader of one-sixth of the world come knocking on your door?
I will, of course, be waiting with baited breath for all of the pope's public appearances (I'm especially curious to see his speech at the United Nations) and will likely comment more as his trip progresses.
Get excited, people!