Pittsburgh bishop on Pope Benedict’s visit: We will be ‘witnesses’ to papal history
PITTSBURGH, Pa. (Pittsburgh Catholic) – COL Editor’s Note: Pittsburgh Catholic editor William Cone recently interviewed Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik regarding his impressions on Pope Benedict XVI and his April visit to the United States.
Bishop Zubik: Pope Benedict is an intensely “connecting” person. The times that I have met him, even if the conversations were ever so brief, he focused his entire attention on me. He does this with every person that he speaks with. I have also observed him at his public audiences.
He does the same thing. He makes the rounds of people who are there, and it takes him every bit of an hour to 90 minutes. That is one of his special gifts. He makes people feel very, very special.
As a public person, he is without question one of the brightest leaders, if not the brightest leader, in the world today. He astounds me how he can take what might be complicated theology and translate it in ways that people can easily understand. In terms of the delivery of his messages at the general audiences, or his encyclical or his books, he has a style that can easily appeal to human experience. He really reflects not simply that he is the shepherd of the universal church, but he is an outstanding teacher as well.
In his encyclical, “Spe Salvi,” he describes how we have our large hopes and our small hopes. But that the only true hope is God himself, who is our anchor. That’s a beautiful testimony from a person who is a great teacher.
Pittsburgh Catholic: What should the Holy Father’s pastoral visit to the United States mean to the Catholic population?
Bishop Zubik: First and foremost, there is our connection with Peter. In my Easter homily this year, I spoke about how, by an act of providence, I was in the front row of St. Peter’s when Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict. I was with a small group of people — only a few thousand — that were gathered, wondering if the assembled cardinals had elected a new pope. We were watching the right side of the basilica, looking for the traditional white smoke that was the sign of a new pope. When the smoke came out — and I have heard it was the same for those watching on television — we couldn’t actually tell if the smoke was white. We looked up to the left side of the basilica, staring toward the bells, knowing that if they began to ring we had a new Holy Father.
And the bells started to peal. As a few thousand of us listened and watched, the square in front of St. Peter’s began to fill. It seemed that in only moments, what had been a few thousand of us became several hundred thousand people — all gathered to hear the news of the new pope. The crowd roared as Pope Benedict was introduced, and came out on the balcony.
There were other times in my life when a new pope had been elected. I remember as a small boy when Pope John XXIII was elected in October of 1958, and then, five years later, just at the end of my eighth grade, when Paul VI was elected in June of 1963. Then John Paul I in August of 1978 and Pope John Paul II in October of the same year.
In each of those instances I was a spectator. But when Pope Benedict was elected, I was blessed to be a witness. I was there in St. Peter’s Square to witness what was happening.
When Pope Benedict arrives in the United States next week, many of our fellow citizens will have the opportunity to become witnesses. They will be there in Washington and in New York in the presence of our Holy Father.
But I also think for anybody who is going to be following his travels in the United States through television, radio, newspapers and the Internet, it will quickly become apparent that he is a universal pastor. That is why it was so important for Pope John Paul II to go to over 100 nations — to show that he is a universal pastor. This is the connection, this is the presence of Peter among us.
Pittsburgh Catholic: As we saw with Pope John Paul II and the many countries that he visited, these pastoral visits are not only to the Catholic population, but visits to the whole population.
Bishop Zubik: He is not here solely for the Catholic community, not here just to meet with the president or various delegates from our government, the United Nations or even from the church. Pope Benedict will be here to visit every living soul in America, Catholic and non-Catholic, Christian and non-Christian, believer and non-believer. He is our pastor, the most recognizable leader worldwide. And we will all have the opportunity to be witnesses to that.
In a very small, small way, I am touched by this myself. One of the things that surprised me since I came back to Pittsburgh is when I will meet someone, perhaps someone who is Jewish, and that person will say to me, “You’re our bishop.” It’s an intriguing statement that shows that people really connect with God through the visible head of a local church here in Pittsburgh.
Think how much greater that is ...
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