Pope says he will bring 'Christian hope' to America

New York

One week ahead of his arrival in the United States, Pope Benedict XVI said today that he is coming to America to bring a message of “Christian hope.”

“I shall come to United States of America as pope for the first time, to proclaim this great truth: Jesus Christ is hope for men and women of every language, race, culture and social condition,” Benedict said.

Benedict XVI spoke in a video message to the American people, released during a Vatican briefing for journalists this morning ahead of the pope’s April 15-20 visit.

Prior to his election as pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger frequently expressed admiration for the religious vitality of American society. He wrote in a 2004 essay, for example, that church/state separation in the United States was intended to protect religion, while the European version was in some ways intended to stifle it.

Benedict struck a note of appreciation again this morning: “I know how deeply rooted this Gospel message is in your country,” he said.

Release of a video from the pope ahead of a foreign trip is not standard Vatican operating procedure. Vatican sources said the decision was the result of an unusually high volume of requests for interviews with the pope from American media outlets sparked by the impending trip. Although the pope turned down those requests, sources said his advisors were impressed with the interest and wanted to offer a response.

Speaking in English, Benedict said that although he will visit only Washington, D.C., and New York during his six days in the country, his intent is “to reach out spiritually to all Catholics in the United States.”

In part, that comment may be an indirect response to the frequently asked question of why the pope is not visiting Boston – one of the four American dioceses celebrating its 200th anniversary in 2008, and the epicenter of the recent sexual abuse crisis in the American church.

The pope did not, however, make any reference to the crisis in his message this morning.

Beyond the Catholic population in the United States, Benedict also said he is coming to reach out to other Christians in the country, as well as to “members of other religious traditions, and all men and women of good will. “

Benedict also offered a few words of greeting in Spanish, an indirect recognition of the changing demographics of Catholicism in the United States. Today the U.S. bishops’ conference estimates that 39 percent of the 70 million Catholics in the country are Hispanic, and given high levels of Hispanic immigration, that figure is expected to rise to more than 50 percent by mid-century.

Benedict’s recent decision to appoint a new cardinal in Houston likewise reflected the on-going shift in the American Catholic population away from its traditional center in the Northeast, towards the South and Southwest.

In this morning’s message, Benedict also offered a foretaste of his April 18 address to the General Assembly of the United Nations. He said that all people, including non-believers, should be able to acknowledge the “golden rule” of doing to others as you would want them to do to you.

Recognizing such a universal moral truth written in human hearts, the pope said, creates a secure foundation for policy debates, “so that when we come to address other matters we can do so in a positive and constructive manner for the entire human community.”

In his U.N. address, Benedict is expected to argue for a global moral consensus, rooted in universal human nature and open to spiritual wisdom, which could act as a foundation for the legal protection of human rights and dignity. In an era in which emerging global powers such as China sometimes argue that the idea of “human rights” is a Western concept, advisors say the pope sees such a consensus as an urgent priority.

The full text of Benedict’s message follows:

Video Message of Pope Benedict XVI

“Dear Brothers and Sisters in the United States of America,

“The grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you! In just a few days from now, I shall begin my apostolic visit to your beloved country. Before setting off, I would like to offer you a heartfelt greeting and an invitation to prayer. As you know, I shall only be able to visit two cities: Washington and New York. The intention behind my visit, though, is to reach out spiritually to all Catholics in the United States. At the same time, I earnestly hope that my presence among you will be seen as a fraternal gesture towards every ecclesial community, and a sign of friendship for members of other religious traditions and all men and women of good will. The risen Lord entrusted the Apostles and the Church with his Gospel of love and peace, and his intention in doing so was that the message should be passed on to all peoples.

“At this point I should like to add some words of thanks, because I am conscious that many people have been working hard for a long time, both in Church circles and in the public services, to prepare for my journey. I am especially grateful to all who have been praying for the success of the visit, since prayer is the most important element of all. Dear friends, I say this because I am convinced that without the power of prayer, without that intimate union with the Lord, our human endeavours would achieve very little. Indeed this is what our faith teaches us. It is God who saves us, he saves the world, and all of history. He is the Shepherd of his people. I am coming, sent by Jesus Christ, to bring you his word of life.

“Together with your Bishops, I have chosen as the theme of my journey three simple but essential words: ‘Christ our hope’. Following in the footsteps of my venerable predecessors, Paul VI and John Paul II, I shall come to United States of America as Pope for the first time, to proclaim this great truth: Jesus Christ is hope for men and women of every language, race, culture and social condition. Yes, Christ is the face of God present among us. Through him, our lives reach fullness, and together, both as individuals and peoples, we can become a family united by fraternal love, according to the eternal plan of God the Father. I know how deeply rooted this Gospel message is in your country. I am coming to share it with you, in a series of celebrations and gatherings. I shall also bring the message of Christian hope to the great Assembly of the United Nations, to the representatives of all the peoples of the world. Indeed, the world has greater need of hope than ever: hope for peace, for justice, and for freedom, but this hope can never be fulfilled without obedience to the law of God, which Christ brought to fulfilment in the commandment to love one another. Do to others as you would have them do to you, and avoid doing what you would not want them to do. This “golden rule” is given in the Bible, but it is valid for all people, including non-believers. It is the law written on the human heart; on this we can all agree, so that when we come to address other matters we can do so in a positive and constructive manner for the entire human community.

“Dirijo un cordial saludo a los católicos de lengua española y les manifiesto mi cercanía espiritual, en particular a los jóvenes, a los enfermos, a los ancianos y a los que pasan por dificultades o se sienten más necesitados. Les expreso mi vivo deseo de poder estar pronto con Ustedes en esa querida Nación. Mientras tanto, les aliento a orar intensamente por los frutos pastorales de mi inminente Viaje Apostólico y a mantener en alto la llama de la esperanza en Cristo Resucitado.

“Dear brothers and sisters, dear friends in the United States, I am very much looking forward to being with you. I want you to know that, even if my itinerary is short, with just a few engagements, my heart is close to all of you, especially to the sick, the weak, and the lonely. I thank you once again for your prayerful support of my mission. I reach out to every one of you with affection, and I invoke upon you the maternal protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“Que la Virgen María les acompañe y proteja. Que Dios les bendiga.

“May God bless you all.”

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