Below is the text of Amb. Thomas Melady's editorial on the upcoming visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United States. His essay appeared on April 2, 2008 in the Washington Times. Ambassador Melady also gave remarks concerning the papal visit on the CBS radio network as well as on Washington's WJLA-TV, the local ABC affiliate station.
The Washington Times
The papal visit
April 2, 2008
By Thomas Patrick Melady
On April 15, Pope Benedict XVI, the 264th successor to Saint Peter and Sovereign of the Vatican City State, will arrive in Washington.
After the funeral of Pope John Paul II in 2005, the assembled College of Cardinals needed only four ballots to decide upon his successor. For many, it was somewhat of a surprise to see Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger emerge from behind the scarlet curtain. But for any student of Vatican politics, the cardinal from Bavaria was the clear choice to maintain continuity with the pontificate of his great predecessor.
When I served as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, I knew Cardinal Ratzinger to be the most influential colleague of Pope John Paul II. I was also aware that Cardinal Ratzinger was not the "Rottweiler" of caricature in the media. Indeed, during my tenure at the Vatican, Cardinal Ratzinger inspired some of Pope John Paul's most popular initiatives. He gave steady, balanced and far-sighted counsel to the pope during tumultuous times.
The day after Pope Benedict arrives in the United States for his inaugural two weeks from now, he will turn 81. When one considers that Pope John Paul II, by far the most traveled pope in history, visited the United States only five times in 27 years, this may be the only chance for 80 million U.S. Catholics to welcome this pope to their country.
Why is he coming to Washington and then New York? In addition to being the leader of more than one billion Catholics worldwide, he is the influential head of the government of the Roman Catholic Church. He has no military and he cannot threaten to cut off economic assistance. But like John Paul II and Paul VI, he can set the tone and the framework for the discussion. He has two issues that he will be discussing with the president. They are the Iraq War and how it can be brought to a close that leads to a period of tranquility in this war torn area; and the problem of Iraqi refugees, a good number of whom are Christians. This is a vexing problem which the Holy See believes must be ameliorated.
What can be done to re-establish a cordial relationship with the leaders and peoples of the predominantly Muslim and Arabic countries? In Washington, Pope Benedict will meet with leaders from all principal faiths including Islamic leaders. The conversation will take place at the John Paul II Cultural Center, which is symbolic of the church's interest in dialogue and conversation.
Pope Benedict specifically requested to visit the Catholic University of America, where he could meet the presidents of Catholic colleges and universities. He will speak with more than 200 heads of these institutions. The guests will also include representatives of the Catholic elementary and secondary schools.
The pontiff's visit to Catholic University of America clearly indicates his fundamental persona. For many years he headed the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, which gave him the public reputation of being the enforcer of church discipline. Now he has returned to his original role as a theologian and teacher. This has been his public portrait in the first three years of his pontificate. I expect that Pope Benedict will set forth his vision of Catho