Ah, the morning after.
I’m so exhausted that I don’t know that I can wrap things up in any meaningful way (although that’s going to have to change, since I’m writing a pope wrap-up today for tomorrow’s paper).
There’s no reason that people should care all that much about what the media went through. But, boy, it was harsh. Waiting for hours — sitting, standing, riding in buses. More than a few people got cranky. I tried to keep my cool. It was nothing personal, I told myself. The powers that be had to keep the pope safe and the media were just in the way.
But we did get to St. Joseph’s Seminary, Yankee Stadium and everywhere else. We got our texts of the pope’s homilies and talks (which I, for one, really needed. When I really, really tried to listen to the pope talk at St. Joseph’s Church, I simply couldn’t understand him).
So what did I take from the whole thing?
Yes, it was significant that Benedict spoke so often about the sex-abuse crisis. He clearly wanted to show that it had hurt him personally, but should he have said more about how and why it happened? Just a bit?
Yes, he challenged America’s Catholics to enjoy their nation’s freedoms and to fully engage its politics and culture without giving in to religious assimilation and the temptations of relativism. (I have to say, I’m kind of proud of the article I did a few weeks back about Benedict’s fear of relativism. This turned out to be one of the main themes of his trip.)
Yes, B16 did show some warmth and personality, particularly at the seminary. He’ll never be a great orator, but he won the people over, no doubt.
But the main thing I take away from the papal extravaganza is this: it’s about the office, not the man.
When I covered JPII a few times, I saw tens of thousands reaching for him, crying for him, and assumed that they were drawn to the man in white, the Polish fellow with the round face and undeniable charisma. And they were, to a degree.
But here comes Benedict. Very different personality. Very different style. German. Shy. Bookish. And the people reach out in the same way, cry for him in the same way.
The only conclusion that I can draw is that it’s about the papacy, not the pope. For Catholics, it’s about the man they believe to be the vicar of Christ, the successor to Peter — no matter who he is. (And for everyone else, it’s about the man who represents, spiritually, 1 out of every 6 people in the world.)
If someone else had been elected in 2005, the same crowds would have been out there. People still would have lined up for hours for a glimpse of the popemobile. People still would have called out “Papa! Papa!” but for a different Papa. There still would have been 25,000 kids at Dunwoodie, talking about how it was a “once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity-to-see-the-pope.”
I’m not knocking Benedict, mind you. He got the job done and deserves a nice rest. But I’m sure that he would be the first one to say that it’s all about the papacy and not Joseph Ratzinger.