Wolf Blitzer of CNN is positively glowing himself this afternoon. He had a chance for a brief private meeting (with 10 others) with the Pope and confessed to being so awed, he didn't say anything!
Blitzer's CNN colleagues were clearly struck by Wolf's intense reaction to meeting the Pope and questioned him on air about this most uncharacteristic behavior. All he could say was that he felt "blessed" and was in such awe, he couldn't speak. Pope Benedict gave him a gold medal and Wolf obviously cherished it.
I loved watching Pope Benedict's glowing face as he reached out to the eager crowds as he made his way to his car after the Mass this afternoon. He seemed to be experiencing the energy and joy that Pope John Paul II so commonly received from crowds. Is the reception that he is receiving here different than he receives elsewhere?
"Benedict was late, and the media coordinator said there was no way he would spend any time here. But he made a beeline around the back of the limo, straight to the waiting pilgrims.
There, he shook hands and was generally mobbed.
"He was trying to give me peace," said Marilyn Villacort from St. Catherine Laboure Parish. "He was bringing me and my family a message of peace from God. Only God knows what I've been going through. He just stared at me and wouldn't let go of me, saying 'Everything's gonna be okay. Just trust in God and everything will be okay."
Then the Secret Servicemen came and began peeling arms off of him and urging him back to the car. In the car he was so energized by the crowd that he turned bodily in his seat, leaning over the cardinal next to him to keep his face in the window closest the crowd.
Even the Washington Post photographer, as we walked away from the event, was moved. He threw his arms in the air and said, "This time I can say: 'Thank you God!'"
Much of what the Holy Spirit is doing through Benedict's visit is happening in small, hidden venues like this and in the hearts of ordinary people - Catholic and non-Catholic - for whom the larger event is an external actual grace - a event that is the occasion of or disposes them to respond to interior prompting and graces of the Holy Spirit.
Tim Drake and company over at the National Catholic Reporter scooped the MSM with a rough text of the Pope's airborne comments. The Vatican, the New York Time, etc. Glance at this Detroit Free Press article on the "Pope of the Internet"
The Internet is all over this visit. All the big TV networks have special multimedia coverage areas on their news sites, of course.
But Internet-only outlets are where you will really find the Pope's first pastoral visit to the United States being debated, dissected and debriefed. Start with one of the most ambitious Web projects of all, a site called WatchThePope.com, created by the Prayer Channel, a New York City cable channel devoted to religious coverage.
Besides extensive commentary, live video coverage of the visit, papal wallpaper that can be downloaded for the iPhone and a do-it-yourself instruction sheet to make your own pope hat, the site has an "Eyewitness Blog" for people who get a glimpse of the pope to record their experiences.
There is an official site for the visit, run by the Vatican. USPapalVisit.org, besides offering constantly updated multimedia coverage, has links for teaching resources to learn more about the pope, the church and the issues he raises while here. There also are links and background reports on each venue Benedict will visit during his six days in Washington, D.C., and New York City.
The Vatican's official site, meanwhile, is less flashy but equally comprehensive, with English and Italian versions of most speeches and events.
The Archdiocese of Detroit is devoting most of its Web site to the visit, with an official video welcome by Cardinal Adam Maida and links to blogs and other online video coverage.
Catholic News Service is posting photo galleries updated through the days of Benedict's public appearance.
Pope Benedict quote of the day. Just something that struck me since Fr. Michael Sweeney and I used to spend a lot of time talking about participating in the liturgy as adults and secular apostles who bring their secular responsibilities and vocations and relationships to the altar and take away from the altar strength and love and vision for their apostolate in the world.
When asked about the quiet "attrition" of many Catholics who simply drift away:
First, as you know, it is becoming more and more difficult, in our Western societies, to speak in a meaningful way of “salvation”. Yet salvation - deliverance from the reality of evil, and the gift of new life and freedom in Christ - is at the heart of the Gospel. We need to discover, as I have suggested, new and engaging ways of proclaiming this message and awakening a thirst for the fulfillment which only Christ can bring. It is in the Church’s liturgy, and above all in the sacrament of the Eucharist, that these realities are most powerfully expressed and lived in the life of believers; perhaps we still have much to do in realizing the Council’s vision of the liturgy as the exercise of the common priesthood and the impetus for a fruitful apostolate in the world.
Here's a YouTube video of excerpts from a 52 minute long DVD containing some of the late Pope John Paul II's prayers. It is quite inspiring - especially one of the last prayers, which is on discipleship and vocation!
We are all relieved that it is supposed to rain and snow tonight. In fact, we are expecting blowing snow and 3 - 6 inches overnight. I've already covered my vulnerable bulbs but some of the pots are being blown off already. I'll have to see what I can do about that. .
Mary Ann Glendon, the new US Ambassador to the Vatican was on hand to greet the Pope when he arrived this afternoon at Andrew's Air Force Base.
But her presence was significant in more than one way. In her former life, Glendon was not only Professor of Law at Harvard University, she is also an expert in the history of international human rights law and wrote A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
This is significant because the Universal Declaration of Human Rights emerged out of and was heavily influenced by Catholic Social Teaching, Catholic intellectuals like Jacques Maritain helped draft it, and 2008 marks its 60th anniversary. It's worth reading the UDH's 30 articles to see how the Catholic understanding of the human person permeates it all. It is supposedly the most translated document in human history.
Russell Shaw has a nice introductory piece on the UDHR and its importance for the Pope and his upcoming address to the UN.
You've probably seen this elsewhere but some Catholic New Yorkers are taking creative advantage of the Pope's visit to do some evangelization: From Pope2008.
Excitement is building in New York City, which will receive Pope Benedict this Friday. A number of Catholic lay people have joined with some local religious communities to plan a welcome that evening. The event will combine prayer, evangelization and singing, which organizers hope Pope Benedict will hear.
The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, the Knights of Columbus, the Sisters of Life, Communion and Liberation, the Blessed Sacrament Fathers, the Daughters of St. Paul and other Catholic groups are organizing what they are calling a “massive street evangelization event” at three locations in Manhattan. Their idea is to stand outside churches and invite people on the street to “encounter the Lord in Eucharistic Adoration and Mass.”
After Mass, those at each church will process to the 72nd Street residence of Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations, where Pope Benedict will be staying, and join together for a candlelight vigil and singing.
The event begins at 4:30 Friday afternoon at three locations:
· St. Malachy’s: 239 West 49th St. between Broadway and 8th Ave.
· St. Jean Baptiste: Lexington Ave. between E. 75th and E. 76th Streets
· Our Lady of Good Counsel: 230 East 90th St. between 2nd and 3rd Aves.
Evangelization is scheduled for two and a half hours, culminating with Eucharistic adoration at 7:00. Priests will be available for confessions. Mass begins at 8:30.
Excellent! This sounds so like similar initiatives that the Emmanuel Community undertake in Rome at the Parthenon. I know so many people - non-Catholics, non-baptized, who feel the presence of Christ in such a powerful way when allowed to encounter the Blessed Sacrament!
As I've written before, there are a number of stories I could tell:
There is my own story since it was the recognition of a presence of God that I had not experienced elsewhere that originally lured me into praying in Catholic churches as an undergraduate.
And the story of a friend of mine, who was a unbelieving, practicing homosexual and yet was also seeking and would spend hours at a time simply sitting in my parish, soaking up the Real Presence.
I could tell you of an unbaptized college student who went to a friend of mine, a Catholic chaplain and said she wanted to become Catholic. The priest asked "Why? Do you have Catholic family members or friends, do you attend Mass, have you been reading books? What has made you want to become Catholic? "No", she replied and then dragged him with trembling hands into the sanctuary and pointed to the tabernacle. "I want that", she said. She didn't know what That was but she could feel the goodness eminating from the tabernacle.
A newly confirmed Catholic woman told me this story on the steps of a church in Twin Falls, Idaho.
She was from a Protestant background. Her turning point was attending an evangelization retreat put on by a local Catholic parish. She told me that when the Blessed Sacrament was exposed, she felt a powerful spiritual energy issuing from the Host. "What is that?" she gasped to her friend. Before that moment, she had never imagined what the Church teaches about the Eucharist could be true, that Jesus is really and fully present. But by the time the retreat ended, she had come to believe her Catholic friends were right. A year later, she was received into full communion.
I could tell you of a large, urban diocese rejuvenated by a lay person who championed Eucharistic Adoration and collaborated with her bishop to establish it in the cathedral and then throughout the diocese.
Nine years ago, Mohammed Hegazy, then 16, dropped out of an Islamic school after deciding he didn't want to be a Muslim preacher. He transferred to another school, unknowingly joining a class that included seven Christians.
That fateful transfer in 1999, and Hegazy's later conversion to Christianity due to the witness of those seven students, set in motion events that led to Cairo's highest civil court. In late January, Judge Muhammad Husseini refused to issue Hegazy a new identity card registering him as a Christian. "He can believe whatever he wants in his heart," the judge said, "but on paper he can't convert."
Hegazy wasn't the only Egyptian convert taking his cards to court. In a second case, a judge has allowed Christians who had converted to Islam for divorce or employment to "re-convert" to Christianity. But the ID cards of these 12 re-converts will include the potentially stigmatizing words, "Christian, previously proclaimed Islam as his/her religion." In a third case, an administrative court ruled that the government must issue ID cards omitting any religious designation to followers of Baha'i, a marginalized religious minority.
In Egypt, a person's identity card is destiny. It is required, for example, to rent an apartment, hold a job, enroll in school, vote, travel overseas, and receive government services. The cards establish citizenship, legal residence, and religious affiliation. But the only religious options are Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.
All three cases gained enormous attention in the Arabic media, in part because Egypt is creating a new national ID-card database. They also sparked fresh public arguments over punishment for apostasy and Egypt's poor human-rights record.
The pastor of Kasr El Dobara Evangelical Church, one of the largest and most influential churches in the near east , Samah Maurice, "believes a religious earthquake is shaking the Middle East, leading to many new conversions from Islam. "For years, there were only hundreds converting from Islam to Christianity. Very confidential, very low key," he said. "Now [converts] are writing their stories. They are in chatrooms. The voice of converts for the first time is being heard. The numbers are beyond estimation. It's an iceberg. If you hear a thousand, then there are 100,000 beneath the surface."
Check out Kasr El Dobara's English website to get a better feel. Among other things, they run the largest drug rehab program in the Arab world and a remarkable program called "Smart Heart" a life skills training program aimed at empowering young women through raising their emotional intelligence, self image and capacity for assertiveness and resistance of abuse."
Consider this very telling and funny story from Maurice:
"He reports that many inquiring Muslims say they've been visited by Jesus. "The most effective thing happening to convert Muslims to Christianity is visions and dreams," Sameh said. "It's the work of the Holy Spirit. It's not the work of a man, a church, or an organization."
This approach also provides the Kasr El Dobara pastors their first line of defense against accusations of proselytism. Once, Egyptian authorities questioned Menes about baptizing a woman who came to him after seeing a vision of Jesus coming through her door and window in Kuwait. "It's the problem of the police there," he replied to them. "They didn't guard the door or the window."
Read the whole article-especially about the burgeoning evangelical outreach within Coptic Christianity and the last part about the whole new phenomena of followers of Christ who remain Muslims.
I'd like to end by returning to the case of Mr. Hegazy, whose legal appeal has cause such a stir. The current Wicki article about him ends with this poignant and moving anecdote about the cost of discipleship and power of God to give us strength and love beyond our human capacity.
"Hegazy raised a storm of controversy when pictures of him posing for journalists with a poster of the Virgin Mary were published in the newspapers. 
Fatwas have been issued by muslim clerics calling for Hegazy's death. Under the same fatwa, Hegazy's daughter Miriam will be killed at the age of 10 if she does not choose Islam.
He has received death threats by telephone. He and his wife have been ostracized by their families and are currently in hiding. Katarina's family have sworn to kill her because she married a non muslim against the family's wishes.
Hegazy's family is just as angry with him. In a 2008 interview to a local Egyptian newspaper, Hegazy's father said, "I am going to try to talk to my son and convince him to return to Islam. If he refuses, I am going to kill him with my own hands."
Shortly after, Hegazy released this statement in response to his father:
"I would like to send a message to my dad. I saw what you said in the newspapers. You say you want to kill me; to shed my blood in public. But I love you so much because you are my dad and because Jesus taught me to love. I accepted Jesus Christ willingly and nobody forced me. I forgive you. No matter what decision you make. No matter what you do. To my dad and mom, I say Jesus Christ died to save me." 
I've been home a week and relative leisure is beginning to creep in.
Nothing huge and looming is pending. Spring is here. Taxes are filed. My first batch of crocuses are blooming. I spent 3/4 of a day doing things that had nothing to do with the Institute. I have time - a little - to actually think, to contemplate. Pope Benedict is coming and I might have enough leisure to actually pay prayerful attention.
I could spend a few minutes marveling at the tiny static sparks that rubbing Pippin's hair set off in the dark.
I know it won't last forever, but I'm grateful..
The only fly in the ointment being that Blogger refuses to post my little note of gratitude for leisure.
. . . Cause, it wouldn't be good to get used to leisure and all.
One more try to post this. And then I"m going to go out into the pre-dawn morning, listen to birds sing, watch the first rays of the sun turn the snow on Pike's Peak to rose, and talk to God.
One of our favorite people, teachers and collaborators - Barbara Elliott - is being featured on Houston's locally produced PBS show "LIving Smart". Barbara is a renaissance woman - Author, international journalist, speaker, social entrepreneur, philanthropic adviser, former White House staff - she's done it all with elegance and style.
I never cease to marvel that she travels around the world for our obscure little outfit. Convert from evangelicalism and passionate Catholic, Barbara is one of our anchor teachers - both for the Called & Gifted workshop and Making Disciples.
Her appearance on LIving Smart will let you see another side of her: mentor of children at risk and social entrepreneur. Living Smart will be broadcast Thursday at 1pm on Houston's PBS station but will also be made available on dozens of other PBS stations.
Meanwhile, I will have the fun of speaking at the Road Home Forum on Sunday, April 20 - with some other local converts including the creator of the famous Adventures in Odyssey children's radio program sponsored by Focus on the Family. News about that has been making its way around the blogosphere so if you are in the Colorado Springs area this weekend, check it out.