Pope Benedict XVI – Messenger of Hope By Sr. Terry Rickard, O.P. Like many American Catholics, I observed with great interest the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United States, especially to my native New York. My interest was heightened as a member of the Dominican Sisters of Blauvelt and as the leader of RENEW International, a Catholic organization dedicated to spiritual renewal in dioceses, parishes, and college campuses. Compared to when he became pontiff three years ago, I see in Pope Benedict XVI a very different leader for our Church than many had predicted. He is neither the hardliner that some feared or the authoritarian for whom others hoped. Instead, he embodies a blend of the qualities that his Benedict namesakes represent – the duality of inward spirituality and outward action. The first Pope Benedict was the founder of Western monasticism, focusing on the revival of the spirit; while Benedict XV encouraged acts of charity and works of justice as a promoter of peace during World War I. Benedict’s theme for his visit, “Christ Our Hope” was right in tune with the times and the general mood. In his advance message to the people of the United States, Pope Benedict observed that “the world has greater need of hope than ever: hope for peace, for justice, and for freedom.” Likewise, our Catholic Church is need of hope in the wake of the hurt from the sexual abuse scandal, the dislocation from the closings of parishes and schools, and the surveys showing the diminishing number of young people participating in the life of the Church. In fact, my ministry at RENEW International brings me to parishes and campuses where many express deep concerns: dissatisfaction with our country’s policies and cultural values, worry about their own futures, sadness due to family members no longer involved in their faith. In the midst of these challenges, Catholics and all people of goodwill are called to be saved by true hope in redemption, not just the lesser hopes for relationships, career, and financial success. In his encyclical, Spe Salvi [Saved by Hope], Benedict XVI challenges us: “But these are not enough without the great hope, which must surpass everything else. This great hope can only be God, who encompasses the whole of reality and who can bestow upon us what we, by ourselves, cannot attain.” [Spe Salvi, 31] Clearly a message based on hope resonated deeply with Catholics and others, based on the crowds who turned out during the visit. Hundreds of thousands saw the pontiff at Masses and events in New York and Washington, DC. Over twenty-five thousand young people participated enthusiastically at the Youth Rally in Yonkers, including my own nephew, whose band Full Armor performed. The fervor surrounding a papal visit is like the awakening of faith from a retreat experience–feeling buoyed by the excitement of connecting with something bigger than ourselves. But what happens next week when the Pope leaves? How do we keep the hope alive? That job is the responsibility of the local church – its leaders and its people. People searching for meaning and purpose in life need to be uplifted by Jesus’ message of love and salvation. Those isolated and alone need to be brought into communities of caring. Parents wanting to pass on the faith need to be given the words and the tools to teach their children. These are all actions that our parishes need to do and can do in the coming weeks and months. I see signs of hope abounding. RENEW International has been working closely with the Archdiocese of Boston to launch a process of spiritual renewal in celebration of its two-hundredth anniversary. Despite the years of intense emotions since the unfolding of the abuse crisis in Boston, many of today’s parish leaders are quite enthusiastic about inviting their family and friends to rejoin them in faith. Student leaders at Catholic University, where the Pope speaks this week, have been forming small Christian communities as part of Campus RENEW and reaching out to their peers and serving others. In other words, "The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life."[SS, 2] Will our parishes and people respond, using the pope’s visit to reflect on the opportunities to put faith into action? I, for one, have hope. Sr. Theresa Rickard, O.P., D. Min. is the Executive Director of RENEW International, a Catholic, not-forprofit ministry organization based in Plainfield, New Jersey. RENEW International fosters spiritual renewal in the Catholic tradition by empowering individuals and communities to encounter God in everyday life, deepen and share faith, and connect faith with action.
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