A semi-lucid thought

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).

44a2e2d14bfb4570b69629c19e17b3f01.jpgThere’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.

B16 loves the Catholic Channel

Earlier today, I ran into Westchester’s own Rob Astorino, program director for the Catholic Channel on SIRIUS Satellite Radio, who yesterday had a brief interview with none other than Pope Benedict XVI.It was about 15 minutes after Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, in Cardinal Egan’s residence.

“The anticipation was killing me,” Astorino told me.

“I saw his image in the mirror, coming out of the elevator, and my stomach got in a knot.”

“It was a beautiful experience. He was kind and gentle. I shook his hand and kissed his ring. He asked how the channel was doing and said he was proud of it.”

Proud of it. The pope was proud of his channel.

The Archdiocese of New York runs programming for the channel. I’m sure Joe Zwilling, the archdiocese’s longtime communications director and general manager of the channel, was smiling.

And get this. The pope recorded a message for the Catholic Channel. It goes like this:

“On the occasion of the third anniversary of my election to the See of Peter I would like to take the opportunity to greet and thank all those who have joined us by radio and other media, especially the listeners of The Catholic Channel on SIRIUS Satellite Radio. Indeed, this means of communication assists me in sharing the saving message of the Gospel. I am pleased that on The Catholic Channel so many people can follow the daily life and activities of the Church. God bless you all.”

Holy Communion, a blessing and relief…

Sure enough, more than 500 priests just distributed Holy Communion to some 57,100 people in about 15 minutes — just as they practiced.

As it was going on, I was watching Mark Ackermann, the former chief administrative officer of St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers who was chosen by Cardinal Egan last June to lead planning for the New York portion of the papal visit.

He had to be relieved. In a few hours, his job will be done…

The pope has just offered his apostolic blessing on items like Rosary beads that people brought to the stadium for that reason.

And the Mass is over. “Go in peace,” the pope said.

He is now standing and waving to the crowd as a procession begins to leave the altar…Benedict is rounding third base and on his way home…

At the Stadium

I just watched a row of nuns clap their hands to Stephanie Mills singing her old hit “I Never Knew Love Like This Before.”

Not something you see every day.

After a four-hour wait (I’m not complaining), I’m finally at Yankee Stadium. I’m in the press box behind home plate, about half way up. I have a tremendous view of the House that Ruth Built (and which will soon be torn down).

I’m looking always head-on at the papal seat in the center of a gorgeous stage and canopy erected over second base. Jose Feliciano just finished singing and Mills is finishing up right now. Here comes Harry Connick Jr. to the piano…

Pope Paul VI was here in 1965. John Paul II in 1979. In about an hour, B16 will become the third (and last) pope to celebrate Mass at the original Yankee Stadium.

Connick is singing a catchy, jazzy version of “How Great Thou Art.” Hard to believe it’s the same hymn I heard Billy Graham’s people sing in Queens a few years back…

Yonkers can now return to normal

The pope has just pulled away.

It was pretty much a flawless afternoon, as best I can tell. The weather cooperated (started hot, ended cool). The schedule was maintained. The crowd seemed as pleased as could be.

There will be plenty of time to analyze the pope’s speech, all his speeches.

I’ll be curious about the reaction to Benedict’s claims about the “manipulation of truth.” He said:

The manipulation of truth distorts our perception of reality, and tarnishes our imagination and aspirations. I have already mentioned the many liberties which you are fortunate enough to enjoy. The fundamental importance of freedom must be rigorously safeguarded. It is no surprise then that numerous individuals and groups vociferously claim their freedom in the public forum. Yet freedom is a delicate value. It can be misunderstood or misused so as to lead not to the happiness which we all expect it to yield, but to a dark arena of manipulation in which our understanding of self and the world becomes confused, or even distorted by those who have an ulterior agenda.

Who was he talking about?

B16 is in Yonkers

It’s just after 4:30 p.m., and I hear helicopters. Pope Benedict XVI has just arrived at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers.

I can’t see him from where I am, but I’m told he is heading directly though the main doors of the seminary into the chapel, where he will meet with disabled youth and their families.

The youth rally is about a half hour away…

A mini-World Youth Day in Yonkers

It’s just after 3 p.m. and I’ve come in from the hot sun that is shining over the papal youth rally in Yonkers this afternoon.

They’re saying that some 25,000 kids are on the grounds here in Dunwoodie — and I believe it.

The lines for chicken fingers and water have to be 70 or 80 people deep. And they kind of blend into one another, creating a mass of hungry and thirsty people.

There are people everywhere. I ran into Father Luke Sweeney, head of vocations for the Archdiocese of NY, and he said that it’s like a mini-World Youth Day.

Hoping for some future priests in that crowd, Father?

The music is loud, just like at a rock concert. Rappers and rockers praising Jesus and pumping up the pontiff. Kelly Clarkson is supposed to come on in about 15 minutes.

I’ve talked to a lot of kids from burbs and, almost to a person, they seem kind of stunned to be with so many other Catholic kids, all waiting for the pope.

Still two more hours until B16 takes the stage. I’m guessing that a lot of sun-burned, thirsty teens will rev it up when they see the little, white figure…

Happy Passover; Here comes the pope

Happy Passover to everyone who will take part in a seder tonight.

The media buses will start rolling early this morning for St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers — while others have been camped out at St. Patrick’s Cathedral since the middle of the night for this morning’s Mass.

It’s a big day for the seminary, no doubt. Bishop Gerald Walsh, the patient rector, has done dozens of interviews about the meaning of the papal trip and what it could mean for the seminary.

As I’ve written before, many hope that a papal visit — in particular his youth rally today at Dunwoodie — will inspire some young Catholic mean to think a bit about the priesthood. That’s the hope…

The seminary has been scrubbed, painted, black-topped, spruced up, in every conceivable way. The eyes of much of the world will be on Yonkers, N.Y., for several hours today.

Don’t forget you can watch the day’s events HERE.

Again, I will blog if at all possible. At least I’m back on Firefox and have paragraphs again…

An ecumenical, Secret Service prayer service

It’s about 8:45 p.m., the end of a long day. Only half an hour or so was taken up by the ecumenical prayer service at St. Joseph’s Church. The rest of the day was spent waiting, waiting, waiting (and not eating). When Pope Benedict finally entered the church at about 6 p.m., a stream of Secret Service guys fell in behind him and filled every aisle of the church. A group of Christian leaders has never been so watched over. The music was wonderful (what a choir) and the service was gently moving, although I don’t know if the Protestant and Orthodox Christian leaders in attendance could understand the pope’s words. I struggled, as he spoke very softly. But I had a text of his talk.  Benedict criticized, in pretty strong terms, Christian communities that move away from Christian tradition in favor of more modern interpretations of the Gospel. But he didn’t say who they are. So we’re all left to guess. Back to the burbs…

Inside St. Joseph’s

I’m not sure why I don’t have paragraphs here, but here goes: I’m finally in St. Joseph’s Church. It took three hours for the media bus to get us here from 57th Street. Much of that time, of course, was spent not moving. St. Joseph’s, which will soon hold 250 Protestant and Orthodox leaders gathering for a prayer service for the pope, is quite small. I count 4 rows of about 12 pews. That’s it. The entire block is surrounded by police, Secret Service, “rifle teams,” etc. At the corner of 87th Street and York Avenue, a bagpipe players is entertaining the troops — security, the media, everyone. I’m sitting in the last pew with several reporters. I’m not complaining (although we have no access to food or water and need a Secret Service escort to use the bathroom). Religious leaders are starting to filter in. I see Monsignor William Belford, chancellor of the Archdiocese of New York, who is posing for pictures.  If my battery holds up, I’ll blog again…