Questions on the eve of the Big Visit

It’s Pope Week.

Here are some of the big questions many people may be asking on the day before Benedict XVI arrives:

At the White House, what will Benedict XVI say about Iraq? Will he mention the Vatican’s strong opposition to the war — or will he simply focus on the need to bring stability to Iraq? Or will he talk about something like, say, stem cell research, on which he and the president are on the same page?

tjndc5-5jkivb9xd5kgcd69gcs_layout.jpgWhen he addresses the nation’s Catholic bishops, will he say how he thinks they’re doing? Are they providing solid leadership for the American flock? Will he mention how they handled the sex-abuse crisis?

When he addresses Catholic education officials and Catholic college presidents, will he give them a passing grade? Will he chastise Catholic colleges for not being Catholic enough or will he praise them for preserving academic freedom in a religious environment — or both?

When he addresses an interreligious gathering in Washington, will he talk about not only America’s religious diversity, but the First Amendment and the separation of church and state? Does the American system advance the balance of faith and reason that he endorses?

When he meets with Jewish leaders — briefly — after the interreligious gathering, will he say something about the Latin Good Friday liturgy?

When he addresses the United Nations, will he be more aggressive in condemning preemptive war? Will he talk about terrorism? How about the Middle East? How to deal with Darfur?

When he leads an ecumenical prayer service with leaders of many Christian traditions, will he outline why Christian unity remains a vitally important goal AND why the differences among Catholic and other traditions cannot be overlooked or deemphasized?

When he addresses priests and religious at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, will he address the priest shortage and the lack of vocations? What will he tell the priests to console them about the damage done by the sex-abuse crisis?

At Ground Zero, what can he say?

At St. Joseph’s Seminary, what can he tell Catholic youth that will inspire them, that will make them want to live deeper Catholic lives and impact the world around them? Will he warn them of the dangers that lurk all around young people today?

When addressing tens of thousands of American Catholics at his two baseball stadium Masses, what message will he have for them? Will he talk about the dangers of secularism and relativism? Will he emphasize the need to trumpet one’s faith in an increasingly consumerist and, some would say, narcissistic culture?

And — finally — during this highly choreographed papal visit, at point will the pope surprise?

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.