Speaking of ecclesiology, Benedict has chosen this spring to devote his catechesis during the Wednesday General Audience to reflections on the church. This Wednesday, he spoke about the role of Peter, and by extension the role of the pope.
All Things Catholic
John L. Allen Jr., NCR senior correspondent, writes weekly on the goings-on in Vatican and in the church around the world.
On the subject of Benedict's visit to Auschwitz, it is by now clear that in the Jewish world, the event drew mixed reviews. Some said that the pope's presence, all by itself, was significant at a time when the president of Iran has publicly questioned the Holocaust; others were moved by Benedict's somber, reverent tone, and his plaintive question of "Where was God?"
Perhaps the biggest win for Benedict XVI against the "dictatorship of relativism" came in Italy last summer, when a strong push by the country's bishops, in tandem with lay activists, annulled a referendum that would have liberalized the country's restrictive law on in-vitro fertilization. (Opponents prevailed by persuading a majority of Italians to abstain from voting).
The biggest sporting event on the planet, the World Cup, is set to open in Germany, and various sectors of the local economy are gearing up to accommodate the millions of fans, athletes and support staffs that will converge on the various sites of competition.
By no means is corruption uniquely, or even primarily, a problem of the Third World, as the recent scandals surrounding Enron and Jack Abramoff remind us. Yet it has its most devastating consequences in places already struggling with chronic under-development and fragile social systems.
Popes only rarely lead by decree. Far more often, their example is decisive, pointing a new direction by what they do and say.
Such has been the case under Benedict XVI on Islam. There's been no Vatican edict, but everyone recognizes something has changed. It's not that Benedict created a more hawkish climate on Islam; those currents were always present, and gathered steam in the post-9/11 period. It's rather that Benedict has unleashed them.
One thing about Benedict XVI which, by now, ought to be abundantly clear is that he is very much his own man. As I have written before, this is not a "PC" pope. He does not feel constrained by other people's expectations.
It's not that Benedict is an innovator. In fact, his exercise of the papal office is in many ways far more traditional than that of his predecessor, John Paul II, who made a career out of shattering antique norms. (Being pope, for example, used to mean never having to say you're sorry, while John Paul apologized repeatedly for all manner of past failings of the church).
I had the honor on Wednesday of having lunch with Jerzy and Irene Kluger. I met Jerzy Kluger at Auschwitz on Sunday during the visit of Benedict XVI. Now 84, Kluger is famous as the Jewish boyhood friend of Karol Wojtyla in Wadowice, Poland, and the two renewed their friendship when "Lolek," as friends called Wojtyla, became archbishop of Krakow and later Pope John Paul II.
On the subject of Benedict XVI's speech at Auschwitz, Kluger expressed the view that the pope had said virtually everything he could, and that it's important to understand the Polish context of the visit. Poles, he said, are sensitive that the undeniable decimation of Jews under the Nazis not obscure their own suffering. At Auschwitz, for example, 150,000 Poles perished along with one million Jews.
Tomorrow, the first massive gathering in St. Peter's Square since Benedict XVI's inaugural Mass one year ago will bring together an estimated 300,000 members of the "new movements," groups of Catholic laity such as the Focolare, the Neocatechumenate, L'Arche, Sant'Egidio, Communion and Liberation, Schönstatt, the Charismatic Renewal and Regnum Christi, which have largely developed in the 20th century. Some 300 representatives of more than 100 movements and new communities are taking part in a congress outside Rome May 31-June 2, leading to the June 3 encounter in the square with the pope.
The event is an echo of the gathering of the new movements with John Paul II in 1998, also held on the Feast of Pentecost.
Editor's Note: Read NCRonline.org daily for John Allen's reports on Pope Benedict XVI's trip to Poland May 25-28.
Sometimes on papal trips, individual events offer more subtext than text. That is, the event may not present a single towering story, but it does occasion some interesting nuggets around the edges.
Benedict XVI's stop in Czestochowa, home of the shrine of Jasna Góra and the famed icon of the Black Madonna, was in some ways a classic example.
In his prepared remarks, the pope issued a strong but undramatic message. He called priests back to the fundamentals of priestly life, including prayer and the sacraments; asked religious to rekindle the fervor of the first moment of their vocations; and offered generous support to the "new movements" in the church.