By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
By way of background to Benedict XVI’s April 15-20 visit to the United States, the following are some “Trivial Pursuit”-style nuggets about papal travel in America.
1.tWith this trip, the United States will pull into a tie with Poland for the most-visited country (other than Italy) by popes in the modern era. Both nations will have hosted nine papal visits in the last half-century.
•tJohn Paul II visited Poland eight times, and Benedict XVI went to Poland in May 2006.
•tPope Paul VI visited the United States once, in October 1965; John Paul II made seven trips to the States, travelling to 23 American cities; Benedict XVI is now set to visit Washington and New York.
Obviously, the frequency with which popes have visited the United States is one measure of the importance the Vatican attaches to the American role in the world -- especially given that unlike Poland, none of these popes has had any biographical attachment to American soil.
2.tTo be fair, two of John Paul’s visits in the United States were basically refueling stops in Alaska on his way somewhere else. He stopped in Anchorage on Feb. 26, 1981, while returning to Rome from Japan, and in Fairbanks on May 2, 1984, en route to the South Pacific. He said Mass in Anchorage, and led a Liturgy of the Word in Fairbanks.
3.tWhen Benedict lands at Andrews Air Force Base on April 15, the United States will become just the second nation visited by all three modern popes who have travelled outside Italy: Paul VI, John Paul II, and now Benedict XVI. Can you guess the other one without looking it up? (The answer appears below.) In any event, the distinction won’t last long, because Australia is set to join the club in July when Benedict XVI arrives for World Youth Day.
4.tBenedict XVI will become the third pope to visit the United States, but he will actually be the fourth to set foot on American territory. How is that possible? Because of this little-known episode in U.S./Vatican relations: In 1849, Pope Pius IX was received aboard the USS Constitution, which happened to be anchored in Gaeta, Italy, where the pope had taken refuge after a popular uprising chased him out of Rome. Allowing the pope to come aboard was a diplomatic gaffe, since the United States was officially neutral in the struggle over the Papal States between Pius IX and Italian nationalists. Nevertheless, the captain of the Constitution, John Gwinn, invited the pontiff aboard when he arrived with King Ferdinand of Sicily for a tour. Pius IX distributed rosaries to the Catholic sailors and gave blessings. He became seasick and took a brief rest in the captain’s chambers, then disembarked to a 21-cannon salute. Gwinn was later threatened with court-martial for the breach of protocol, but died before a trial could be held. (I owe this nugget to the book The United States and the Holy See: The Long Road, by former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See James Nicholson.)
5.tOnly seven nations have received at least five visits by modern popes:
•tthe United States (soon to be 9)
Significantly, the United States is the lone nation on the list which does not have a majority Catholic population.
6.tWhen Benedict XVI says Mass at Yankees Stadium on April 20, it will be the third time a pope has celebrated the Eucharist in that space.
•tPaul VI said Mass in Yankees Stadium on Oct. 4, 1965. Afterwards, Time opined that perhaps Yankees Stadium would be known in the future as “the home of Mantle, Maris and Montini,” since the pope’s Christian name was Giovanni Battista Montini. Perhaps this time around, it will be “Rivera, A-Rod and Ratzinger.”
•tJohn Paul II said Mass in Yankees Stadium on October 2, 1979. Just to be fair, John Paul also appeared in Shea Stadium in 1979 and said Mass in Giants Stadium in 1995.
7.tPresident George W. Bush will become the fifth U.S. president to meet a pope on American soil, though only the third president to personally greet the pontiff upon his arrival. Prior to 1984, the Holy See and the United States did not have diplomatic relations, so protocol prevented the president from leading the welcoming party.
•tWhen Paul VI came in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson met the pontiff in the apartment of Arthur Goldberg, then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, in New York’s Waldorf Hotel.
•tIn October 1979, President Jimmy Carter dispatched his wife, Rosalyn, to greet John Paul II in Boston. The president met the pope during a later stage of the trip in the White House.
•tDuring John Paul’s Anchorage layover in 1981, President Ronald Reagan sent then-Secretary of Labor Raymond Donovan to deliver a personal message of greeting.
Diplomatic relations were established between the Holy See and the United States on January 10, 1984, so that when John Paul II touched down in Fairbanks, Alaska, in May 1984, Reagan greeted the pope personally, as he did again in September 1987 when John Paul arrived in Miami. Similarly, President Bill Clinton greeted John Paul II in Denver in 1993, in Newark in 1995, and St. Louis in 1999. In Denver, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton and daughter Chelsea were also on hand.
8.tBenedict XVI’s April 18 address to the General Assembly of the United Nations will mark the fourth time a pope has addressed that body. Paul VI spoke to the U.N. on Oct. 4, 1965, while John Paul addressed the General Assembly on Oct. 2, 1979, and again on Oct. 5, 1995. Careful readers will have noticed that all three previous papal addresses came in October. The United Nations celebrates its anniversary in that month, having been formally created on Oct. 24, 1945. October is also when the general debate takes place, making it the period when heads of state typically address the General Assembly. This time around, however, October is uncomfortably close to the American presidential elections in November.
9.tFor a sense of the difference between the barn-storming travel style of John Paul II in his early years, and the more restrained approach under Benedict XVI, consider this: John Paul’s first visit to the United States took seven days, and in that time he visited seven cities and made 63 speeches. Benedict will be here roughly the same amount of time, just under six days, but he’s visiting only two cities and giving just 11 speeches.
10. It often surprises people to learn that there is no "papal plane" in the sense of a jet owned by the Vatican and permanently assigned for papal travel. Instead, Alitalia typically sets aside a regular commercial plane for the pope's outbound flight, and the national carrier of whatever country he's visiting does the same for the return leg. Thus in 1965, 1979, 1987, 1995 and 1999, the pope returned to Rome from the United States on a TWA plane; in 1993, he took American. (Since American bought TWA in 2001, it was more or less all in the family.) This time around, however, Benedict XVI is flying Alitalia round-trip, so no American carrier will have the honor of being designated "Shepherd One" for the ten hours or so it takes to fly from JFK to Rome.
A list of all nine papal trips to the United States, including Benedict's upcoming pastoral visit:
1.tOct. 4, 1965, Paul VI: New York
2.tOctober 1979, John Paul II: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Des Moines, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington
3.tFeb. 26, 1981, John Paul II: Anchorage, Alaska
4.tMay 2, 1984, John Paul II: Fairbanks, Alaska
5.tSeptember 1987, John Paul II: Miami, Colombia (South Carolina), New Orleans, San Antonio, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Monterey, Carmel, San Francisco, Detroit
6.tAugust 1993, John Paul II: Denver (World Youth Day)
7.tOctober 1995, John Paul II: Newark, New York, Baltimore
8.tJanuary 1999, John Paul II: St. Louis
9.tApril 2008, Benedict XVI: Washington and New York
Answer to Trivia Question: To date, the only other nation to be visited by Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI is Turkey. Interestingly, even after adding Australia to the list in view of Benedict's scheduled July visit, not one of these countries has a majority Catholic population. That's symbolic, perhaps, of the desire of modern popes to engage not just the Catholic flock, but the entire world, in the church's capacity as what Paul VI called "experts in humanity."