Monday, 21 April 2008

Welcoming Benedict XVI in USA

One of the interesting things about Pope Benedict XVI's visit to America is that of comparing the different speeches that have been given to welcome him. I have already posted on President George Bush's welcome speech at the White House. Below I compare that welcome to the welcome given by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon when Pope Benedict visited the UN.

The welcome speeches given by Archbishop Wuerl and Cardinal Egan at the beginning of the celebrations of Mass at the National's Stadium and the Yankee's Stadium are of rather a different nature. It appears to be the fashion to offer a welcome/introduction at the beginning of special celebrations like this - but I am not convinced that the style of welcome speeches offered on these two occasions really sits within the meaning of the rubric that allows a brief introduction to the Mass.

President George Bush: welcome to Benedict XVI at the White House

“Most of all, Holy Father, you will find in America people whose hearts are open to your message of hope. And America and the world need this message. In a world where some invoke the name of God to justify acts of terror and murder and hate, we need your message that ‘God is love.’”

The reference to Pope Benedict’s encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est is key to understanding President Bush’s words.

“The United States is the most innovative, creative and dynamic country on earth -- it is also among the most religious.”

Subtly, President Bush affirms the religious character of US society, clearly intending by that belief in revealed religions (perhaps primarily Christianity).

“Here in America you'll find a nation of prayer. Each day millions of our citizens approach our Maker on bended knee, seeking His grace and giving thanks for the
many blessings He bestows upon us. Millions of Americans have been praying for your visit, and millions look forward to praying with you this week.”

“Here in America you'll find a nation of compassion. Americans believe that the measure of a free society is how we treat the weakest and most vulnerable among us. So each day citizens across America answer the universal call to feed the hungry and comfort the sick and care for the infirm. Each day across the world the United States is working to eradicate disease, alleviate poverty, promote peace and bring the light of hope to places still mired in the darkness of tyranny and despair.”

These two paragraphs reflect the two-fold structure of Deus Caritas Est - an analysis of the nature of human loving, and of God’s character as Love, followed by charity as the living out of God’s love in the world.

“Here in America you'll find a nation that welcomes the role of faith in the public square. When our Founders declared our nation's independence, they rested their case on an appeal to the ‘laws of nature, and of nature's God.’ We believe in religious liberty. We also believe that a love for freedom and a common moral law are written into every human heart, and that these constitute the firm foundation on which any successful free society must be built.”

The idea of a common moral law, rooted in God and manifested in nature and in the human heart; and thereby, the possibility that the laws of the land should defend such basic values as the good of human life.

“Holy Father, Laura and I are privileged to have you here at the White House. We welcome you with the ancient words commended by Saint Augustine: ‘Pax Tecum.’
‘Peace be with you.’”

An attitude of profound courtesy from someone who is not a Catholic, and a demonstration of what Benedict XVI would term “dialogue”.

UN Secretary-General: greeting to Benedict XVI at the United Nations

“Whether we worship one God, many or none -- we in the United Nations have to sustain and strengthen our faith every day. As demands on our Organization multiply, we need more and more of this precious commodity. I am profoundly grateful to his Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for bestowing some of his faith on us -- and for placing his trust in us. He possesses both of these in abundance. May we be strengthened by his visit today.”

This concluding paragraph sums up Ban Ki-moon’s address: religious indifferentism, and the use of the word “faith” indiscriminately with regard to those who have and those who do not have religious belief, as if the word means the same for both groups,

“I am deeply grateful to His Holiness for accepting my invitation to visit the United Nations -- home to all men and women of faith around the world. Your
Holiness, welcome to our common home.

The United Nations is a secular institution, composed of 192 States. We have six official languages but no official religion. We do not have a chapel -- though we do have a meditation room.”

The absence of an official religion is the expression of an appropriate secular/lay character of the United Nations, but see above for the use of the word "faith".

“Before leaving the UN today, you will visit the Meditation Room. My great predecessor, Dag Hammarskjöld, who created that room, put it well. He said of the stone that forms its centerpiece: ‘We may see it as an altar, empty not because there is no God, not because it is an altar to an unknown God, but because it is dedicated to the God whom man worships under many names and in many forms.’”

The absence of chapels for the different religions in favour of a common “meditation room” goes beyond appropriate secularity to treating the different religions as themselves non-religious phenomena which must conform to non-religious criteria; and Dag Hammarskjold expresses again the religious indifferentism already noted.

“But if you ask those of us who work for the United Nations what motivates us, many of us reply in a language of faith. We see what we do not only as a job, but as a mission. Indeed, mission is the word we use most often for our work around the world -- from peace and security to development to human rights.”

Again, the word “faith” is used indiscriminately to refer to the faith of religious belief and to a secular meaning, though I feel the use of the word “mission” has here greater possibilities of genuine commonality of meaning.

“Your Holiness, in so many ways, our mission unites us with yours.

You have called for an open and sincere dialogue, both within your Church and between religions and cultures, in search of the good of humankind.”

I think there is a fairness in the use of the word “mission”, and a genuine commonality of meaning for the word. Ban Ki-moon listed in his speech some of the ways in which the UN and the Holy See share common purpose (in working to relieve poverty and achieve nuclear disarmament, for example).

But, it has to be said, the outlook of the United Nations, as represented by the General Secretary, goes counter to much of what Pope Benedict XVI stands for. Where President Bush shows a clear appreciation of Pope Benedict's mission, General Secretary Ban Ki-moon appears to be deliberately presenting a form of secularism as an alternative. The frustrating thing about this is the attempt to present it as if it is similar to the mission of Benedict XVI and the Catholic Church!

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