Pope Benedict XVI in the United States, April 2008

Pope Benedict XVI Comes to the United States, April 15-20, 2008

An Apostolic Journey to the United States

Pope Benedict XVI will be making an apostolic visit to the United States from Tuesday, April 15 through Sunday, April 20. This will be his first visit to the United States as the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church. His itinerary will take him to Washington, D.C. and New York City. During this historic trip, the pope will address the United Nations General Assembly, meet with President George Bush, and visit the location of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks. The Holy Father will also celebrate Mass at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. and at Yankee Stadium in New York.

The Pope's Visit as an Opportunity for Catechesis
The historic visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United States (April 15-20, 2008) is an opportunity for catechesis on the Church and on the papacy. Catechists, religion teachers in Catholic schools, youth ministers, RCIA coordinators, and other parish pastoral ministers can seize this opportunity to engage those they serve in learning about the successor of Peter and the role of the papacy in the Catholic Church. Loyola Press is happy to provide the following questions and answers to assist in this endeavor.

Who is Pope Benedict XVI?
Who are the bishops?
What is the importance of the Bishop of Rome?
What is the pope's full title?
Why does the pope have the title the “Vicar of Christ”?
How did Pope Benedict XVI become pope?
What is a papal conclave?
Why did Cardinal Ratzinger choose the name Benedict?
Why do we call the pope the Holy Father?
What are the pope's duties?
How was the pope prepared to carry out his duties?
Why does Pope Benedict XVI have a seashell on his coat of arms?
What does Pope Benedict XVI want to teach us?
Does Pope Benedict speak English?
What does he do to relax?
Does the pope travel much?
Is Benedict XVI the first pope to visit the United States?
What is the pope's schedule for the apostolic visit?
Who will the pope meet in the United States?
How will the pope travel when he is on the ground?

Who is Pope Benedict XVI?
Pope Benedict XVI is the 265th reigning pope of the Roman Catholic Church. He is also the Bishop of Rome, and successor the Apostle Saint Peter.

Who are the bishops?
Bishops are the principle leaders and teachers of the Catholic faith. They are the successors of the apostles, and minister to the people of their local dioceses in Jesus' name. It is their ministry to make sure that the Church teaches a correct understanding of the faith handed down to us from the apostles. Bishops in the Catholic Church belong to the college of bishops, which is the assembly of bishops from all over the world. The college of bishops, with the successor of Peter at their head, has full authority over the whole Church. In order to exercise this authority, they must always have the agreement of the successor of Peter. The Holy Spirit is with the pope and the bishops—as leaders of the Church—so that they can proclaim and teach the Gospel.

What is the importance of the Bishop of Rome?
Only one person has complete authority over the whole Church—Jesus Christ. He is the head of the Church. But Jesus has ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. Someone here on earth is needed to govern the Church. Jesus assigned this task to Peter and his successors. Peter was chosen by Jesus to be the leader of the apostles (Matthew 16:18-19). The successor of Peter is the Bishop of Rome. This was the diocese where the Apostle Peter lived in his final years and was martyred, probably during the Emperor Nero's persecution in about 65. The Bishop of Rome carries forward in time the ministry of Peter to lead the Church.

What is the pope's full title?
The pope's full title is “His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor to the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God.”

Why does the pope have the title the “Vicar of Christ”?
Bishops, like the kings of the Old Testament, govern God's people. Jesus Christ is head of the Church. Jesus made it clear that he wanted his “vicars,” those who represent him in governing the Church, to act as servants rather than as masters. The Bishop of Rome is the “Vicar of Christ” for the whole Church. In a particular diocese, the bishop is a “Vicar of Christ” because Christ is head of the local church, but the bishop represents him in leading the Church. The pope and bishops serve the people by guiding them to live in peace with each other and by working with them, together with the priests and deacons, to make the world a place of justice and harmony.

How did Pope Benedict XVI become pope?
Pope Benedict XVI, whose name before his election was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, was elected on April 19, 2005, in a papal conclave.

What is a papal conclave?
A papal conclave is a meeting of the College of Cardinals whose responsibility it is to elect a new pope. During the conclave the cardinals are not allowed to communicate with the world. They stay in a two-room suite in the Vatican. For the election of Benedict XVI there were 115 cardinals from 52 countries and five continents. The cardinals take an oath that the proceedings of the conclave will remain secret. The cardinals voted four times before electing Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger as pope. After the first three votes black smoke came from the Vatican, meaning no one was elected. After the fourth ballot, white smoke came from the Vatican.

Why did Cardinal Ratzinger choose the name Benedict?
Cardinal Ratzinger chose the name Benedict (which means “blessing”) for two reasons. First he wanted to honor Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922), who was the pope who worked for peace during the difficult years of World War I. Second, Cardinal Ratzinger has a special devotion to Saint Benedict of Nursia (c. 480-c. 547). Saint Benedict was the founder of the Benedictine monasteries, which were very important in preserving Western civilization after the fall of the Roman Empire.

Why do we call the pope the Holy Father?
We call the pope the Holy Father because as Catholics we believe that we are personally connected to him. That is where the title “pope” comes from—the Italian word for “papa.” So when we say Pope Benedict XVI, we are calling him our father.

What are the pope's duties?
The pope is the shepherd or pastor of the whole flock that is the Church. The word “pastor” comes from the Latin word for “shepherd.” As our pastor or shepherd the pope is the one who looks out for our well-being. Each diocese has its own pastor, the bishop, and bishops call priests to be pastors of individual parishes. But the pastor of all Catholics is the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome. Like all bishops Pope Benedict carries a staff called a crosier when celebrating the liturgy. This is symbolic of a shepherd's staff that signifies his duties as pastor for the whole Church.

How was the pope prepared to carry out his duties?
Pope Benedict XVI had a long and distinguished career as a theologian studying and teaching at German universities. As a theologian he was a peritus or theological consultant to Josef Cardinal Frings of Cologne during the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Later he was appointed Archbishop of Munich and Freising (1977-1982) and appointed Cardinal in 1977. In November 1981, Pope John Paul II appointed Cardinal Ratzinger Prefect for the Congregation for Catholic Doctrine. In this office it was Cardinal Ratzinger's role to defend and reaffirm Catholic doctrine. He remained in this role until his election as the successor to Pope John Paul II.

In November 1998, Cardinal Ratzinger was elected vice dean of the College of Cardinals. Four years later, Pope John Paul II approved his election as dean of the College of Cardinals. As dean, Ratzinger presided over the College's deliberations during the vacancy of the Holy See following the death of Pope John Paul II on April 2, 2005. He presided at the funeral Mass for the pope on April 8, 2005, in St. Peter's Square in Rome.

Why does Pope Benedict XVI have a seashell on his coat of arms?
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger chose a seashell as part of his coat of arms when he was appointed archbishop of Munich-Freising in 1977. The seashell symbolized the one in a story of Saint Augustine (354-430) and a child playing at the seashore. In the story St. Augustine was walking along the beach trying to understand the full meaning of the mystery of the Trinity. He came across the child digging a hole in the beach and running to the water and bringing back water in a seashell and pouring it into the hole. Augustine asked the boy what he was doing. He said he was trying to pour all the water in the sea into the hole. When Augustine told the boy this was impossible, the boy responded that it was also impossible for the human mind to understand the mystery of the Trinity. Then the boy vanished. The incident revealed to Augustine that the human mind can no more fully understand the mystery of the Trinity than a seashell can empty out the sea. When elected pope in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI had seashells embroidered on the vestments he wore at his installation Mass.

What does Pope Benedict XVI want to teach us?
Central to what Pope Benedict XVI wants to teach us is the centrality of growing in friendship with Jesus Christ. He wrote his book Jesus of Nazareth to help the reader foster and grow in a living relationship with Jesus Christ. Were we to respond to the call of Jesus into relationship, we would experience beauty and liberation. When we give ourselves to Christ, we will receive a hundredfold in return.

Pope Benedict XVI has a deep knowledge of the history and theology of the Church and uses every opportunity he has to share his knowledge. In his weekly audiences he has been reminding us of the great teachers of the early Church, especially St. Augustine, whose writings are permanent gifts to our Christian lives.

Pope Benedict has so far published two encyclicals, “God is Love,” and “Saved by Hope.” In “God is Love,” he writes about God pouring out love on us which we in turn share with others through acts of charity. Since God first loved us (1 John 4:10) love is no longer a command, but a response to the gift of love with which God calls near to us. He also writes about the relationship between men and women as a gift from God that should never be exploited.

“Saved by Hope” explains the concept of faith-based hope in the New Testament and the early Church. Real hope is based on faith in God who expresses love most clearly in the person of Jesus Christ. Benedict XVI writes that there are two mistaken notions of hope. One is that some Christians base their hope too much on their own eternal salvation. The second error is to place hope exclusively on science, rationality, freedom and justice for all to the exclusion of any notion of God and eternity. True Christian hope is in the loving God and has consequences for everyday life. This is especially true in the way Christians are capable in Christ of accepting suffering, maturing in it, and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love.

Pope Benedict XVI has a special love for the Eucharist. In a special letter on the Eucharist and the Church he writes, “the Eucharist is Christ who gives himself to us and continually builds us up as his body.” When we celebrate the Eucharist and enter into union with Christ, this has a profound impact on our social relations. “I cannot possess Christ just for myself, I can belong to him only in union with all those who have become, or will become, his own.”

Does Pope Benedict speak English?
Pope Benedict XVI's native language is German. He speaks English fluently as well as Italian, French, Spanish, Dutch, and Latin. He also has a knowledge of Portuguese and Polish. For his studies the pope reads Latin, ancient Greek, and biblical Hebrew.

What does he do to relax?
The pope likes to read a lot, especially when he is preparing to write a book or a letter called an encyclical for the whole Church. He also plays classical piano and likes to play music by Mozart and Bach.

Does the pope travel much?
Pope Benedict likes to travel. So far he has visited six countries including Brazil, Austria, Turkey, Spain, and Poland. He especially likes to visit his homeland, Germany, which he has done twice.

Is Benedict XVI the first pope to visit the United States?
The United States was visited first by Pope Paul VI in October, 1965. Pope John Paul II visited the United States seven times.

What is the pope's schedule for the apostolic visit?
The pope will be arriving Tuesday, April 15. He will land at Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington, D.C.

On Wednesday, April 16, the pope will meet with President George Bush and will celebrate a prayer service with 350 U.S. bishops at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Thursday the pope will celebrate Mass in Nationals Park, the home field to the Washington Nationals baseball team.


Friday the pope travels to New York to address the United Nations General Assembly. In doing so he follows a long tradition, as Pope Paul VI spoke to the General Assembly in 1965. Pope John Paul II spoke at the United Nations twice, in 1979 and 1995.

Saturday, April 19, the pope celebrates Mass in Saint Patrick's Cathedral in the morning and will lead a rally/prayer service for several thousand young people in the afternoon.

Sunday will be the last day of Pope Benedict XVI's visit. He will visit ground zero of the events of September 11, 2001. In the afternoon he will celebrate Mass at Yankee Stadium. In the evening at 8:00 p.m. he flies out of John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Who will the pope meet in the United States?
Pope Benedict XVI will be met by President and Mrs. Bush when he arrives. He will celebrate a private prayer and meeting with 350 bishops of the United States. On Thursday, April 17, the pope will meet with the heads of more than 200 Catholic colleges and universities in the United States and with superintendents from the 195 Catholic dioceses. At the meeting he will discuss the importance of Catholic education. Thursday, April 17, the pope will gather for a prayer service with Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindi, Jews, and representatives of other religions. Friday the pope will address the United Nations and participate in a prayer service with leaders from other Christian denominations. Saturday, April 20, he will meet with thousands of young Catholics, including 50 young people with a range of disabilities.

How will the pope travel when he is on the ground?
For traveling in the cities the Vatican has sent a popemobile. The popemobile is a modified Mercedes-Benz 430 off-road vehicle. It has a “glass” top in the shape of a cube made of advanced, bullet-proof plastic. It also features a high seat so that the pope can be visible as he passes by the people.