By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
While U.S. President Barack Obama is not expected to arrive at the Vatican today until around 4:00 pm local time, First Lady Michelle Obama should get here more than an hour before, along with her daughters Malia and Sasha, her mother Marian Robinson, and longtime friend Kaye Wilson, for an extensive guided tour.
Mrs. Obama's motorcade is expected to pull up at a side entrance around 2:45 pm in Rome, meaning 8:45 am on the East Coast in America. The party will first get a tour of St. Peter's Basilica, including the tombs of the popes that lie beneath the basilica's main floor, before heading into the Apostolic Palace.
The famed Sistine Chapel has been closed ahead of Mrs. Obama's visit, to allow for a private tour. She will also be shown the Sala Regia, or "Regal Room," where popes once received monarchs, and which is today used for grand Vatioan events. The party will also walk through the rest of the first and second floors of the Apostolic Palace.
At the end of her tour, the First Lady and the rest of her party will join the official American delegation, in order to meet the pope after his private exchange with the president.
Here's the second part of my report on the teleconference called by the Catholic Democrats earlier today. I already reported on what Congresswoman Rosa L. DeLauro of Connecticut and Congressman Jim McGovern of Massachusetts think about tomorrow's meeting between President Obama and Pope Benedict XVI. To sum up their thoughts: It's more than a mere photo-op.
The two representatives also talked briefly about Pope Benedict's encyclical Caritas in Veritate. Here's a quick sampling:
DeLauro: "[Pope Benedict] has provided an excellent road map in how we can go about securing economic justice. I think it is so refreshing to read what he has to say. He presents a challenge to all political leaders when he basically concludes, and I quote, 'every economic decision has a moral consequences.' ...
Redemptorists provide historic stole for Obama to present to pope
You got to hand it to the Redemptorists, Baltimore Province. They get swept up in the Madoff scandal, losing a lot of dough, but don't miss a beat. They've secured the delivery by President Barack Obama of a stole that was placed on the remains of St. John Neumann, a Redemptorist himself. It's a terrific coup on the Redemptorists' part, not too mention the fact that they've put an excellent spin on the word "stole."
Just off the phone with a teleconference called by the Catholic Democrats. They had Congresswoman Rosa L. DeLauro of Connecticut and Congressman Jim McGovern of Massachusetts speaking about Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical Caritas in Veritate and about tomorrow's meeting between the pope and President Obama.
The big question (asked by Michael Paulson of The Boston Globe) was about tomorrow's meeting. Is it symbolism or is it significant?
The representatives were both adamant that this was no mere photo-op.
McGovern said, "In the past there have been symbolic meetings that amounted to no more than photo-ops and nice press releases. But my sense of President Obama is that he doesn't do symbolism. He is not going through the motions. This is man who ran for president with a deep desire to change the world for the better. He is a man with a mission."
"I believe that [Obama] really wants to change things," McGovern said. "And I think this pope, with the encyclical that he has issued has put forward a framework not just for the Untied States to follow but for the rest of the world to follow. …
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good this morning hosted a conference call with a group of experts on the Church's social teaching to discuss Pope Benedict's encyclical Caritas in Veritate.
All the experts were agreed on the significance of the encyclical. Caritas "represents a comprehensive reinvigoration of Catholic social teaching for our age," according to Prof. Steven Schneck, director of the Life Cycle Institute at The Catholic University.
"I am Joseph, your brother." Gen 45:5
There are many stories about the late Pope John XXIII, and some of them are true. Asked once how many people worked in the Vatican, the roly-poly pope answered, "About half of them." On another occasion, momentous for its significance, Pope John welcomed a visiting delegation of Jewish rabbis by quoting today's Lectionary reading from Genesis 44-50, introducing himself to his visitors with the words "I am Joseph, your brother."
It is with no small amount of fascination that I watch the interplay going on between leading neoconservative Catholics and the papacy of Benedict XVI. In a sense, the leaders of that brand of conservative thought in U.S. Catholicism appear to have lost their partner in the civil religion rumba they enjoyed for so many years during the John Paul II papacy.
Roland Joffe, the director who brought you "The Killing Fields" and "Mission" is now working on a film that focuses on the early years of Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer, founder of the Opus Dei. It is to be titled: "There Be Dragons."
Here's the synopis from the Internet Movie Database:
It's in pre-production, filming scheduled for Spain and Argentina. Expect a 2010 release date.
OK, I've been to Honduras once in my life, on a church mission trip a few summers ago (church missions, by the way, are one of that country's biggest imports, usually American evangelicals but also including Catholics as well). I'd be reluctant to portray myself as an expert.
Not that I can make a great deal of sense about the current coup situation. But we did travel the country extensively at the time, and I do remember seeing all the posters promoting President Manuel Zelaya, and I asked for reaction about him. From the humble parishes and top-level church officials we talked to, an unflattering picture of Zelaya, "Presidente Mel," emerged.
His administration was seen, at best, as incompetent, at worst, as hopelessly corrupt. I never heard a good word about him. His appeal, it was said, was bought by his family's massive ranching wealth. Those with long memories noted how, in the 1970s, his family took the side of the local aristocracy against church labor activists, some of whom were killed well before North Americans ever heard much about nearby El Salvador.