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U.S. Ambassador's View of Pope Benedict

3/23/2006 - 6:00 AM PST

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Interview With Francis Rooney

ROME, MARCH 23, 2006 (Zenit) - Benedict XVI has so far shown a "great and open pastoral ability" in addition to theological rigor, says the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.

In this interview with us, Ambassador Francis Rooney talked about the first year of this pontificate, the forthcoming consistory this Friday, and interreligious dialogue with Islam, among other issues.

Q: The consistory will produce two new U.S. cardinals. What does that tell you?

Rooney: This is an important moment in the papacy of Benedict XVI, and also for America.

We are pleased to see Archbishops William Levada and Sean O'Malley elevated to the College of Cardinals; though we were not completely surprised given their positions within the Church's hierarchy.

They are men of fine reputation, who have worked long and hard on behalf of the Church, often in difficult circumstances and on very complicated issues. We read their appointment as a vote of confidence by the Holy Father in the Catholic Church in America.

Q: The consistory comes near the end of the first year of this pontificate. What has struck you the most about Benedict XVI?

Rooney: Pope Benedict XVI has surprised much of the world, turning out to be quite a different person than media headlines portrayed him to be nearly a year ago.

Media had focused on his reputation as an enforcer of doctrine; but in addition to his theological rigor, he has displayed a great and open pastoral ability and has shown himself to be a gifted teacher, consistently clear and bold in his communications.

On the occasions that I have met with the Holy Father, he was generous and appreciative of the U.S.-Holy See relationship. The world has warmed to him, and has been struck by the power of his mind and the gentle clarity of his faith.

Q: What do you see as the main priorities of this pontificate so far?

Rooney: The Holy Father has been consistent and vocal in his calls to put an end to terrorism and killing in the name of God. The United States supports him in this effort.

The terrorists who are setting off bombs in mosques and markets in Iraq share the same hateful ideology as the terrorists who attacked the United States on September 11, 2001, those who blew up commuters in London and Madrid, and those who murdered tourists in Bali, guests at a wedding in Amman, Jordan, and workers in Riyadh.

In the war on terror we face a global enemy of humanity. The Holy Father understands that. In the long run, the best way to defeat terrorism is to protect and promote human dignity and spread the hope of freedom.

Pope Benedict has also done much to advance and encourage interreligious dialogue. Just last week, he called for Christians, Muslims and Jews to work together for peace and justice. It is our great hope to support his efforts in our own work at the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.

And in another theme close to the work of my embassy, the Holy Father has spoken out eloquently about the need to protect the most vulnerable of our world, directly mentioning the scourge of modern-day slavery: trafficking in persons.

Nearly one year into the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI, it remains crystal clear that the United States is fortunate to work with the Holy See in addressing these critical issues of our day.

Q: What possible areas of cooperation exist between the United States and the Vatican? For example, in the recent past there has been cooperation on issues such as human trafficking and food aid.

Rooney: Mutual respect and common goals have always underpinned the relationship between the United States and the Holy See.

Today, working with Pope Benedict XVI, I am very confident that we will succeed in our determined efforts to advance peace, justice, freedom, economic opportunity and democracy in the world.

To that end, it is my goal to further enhance collaboration with the Holy See in addressing terrorism, global hunger, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, migration issues and the trafficking of human beings across international borders.

In my meetings with the Holy Father, and in conversations with high-ranking members of the Curia, there is always conversation about our continued partnership to promote tolerance and human dignity. I repeat, the United States is fortunate to work with the Holy See in these endeavors.

Q: What could the United States learn from the Vatican regarding interreligious dialogue and relations with Islam?

Rooney: It's worth mentioning again that the Holy Father recently spoke to the need for outreach among Jews, Christians and Muslims.

He called for the followers of each of those religions to work together to promote peace and justice in the world, and has consistently urged religious ...

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