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The First American Pope

Monday, 21 Apr 2008 02:47 PM

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Pope Benedict XVI and Americans are now more comfortable with one another than was the case with any previous head of the Roman Catholic Church.

Americans of every creed took this good man’s messages into their hearts, adopting him as their own. It was reciprocal. By the time he boarded the plane to return to the Vatican, he was obviously feeling very much at home here.

Benedict may well go down in history as “the first American pope.”

This time last week, he was well known in this country mainly to those Catholics who had followed closely his career and writings. Today, across this land, he is possibly the most-revered of all living world figures.

Nothing like this has come even close to this unpredicted phenomenon. Who thought his visit would generate such widespread enthusiasm — both in the millions of admirers and in the depth of their joyous response to his arrival?

Thank God for Fox News. No other television news bothered to follow the Pope every step of the way, allowing him to give his messages in their entirety. Had it not been for Fox, millions would have missed this incomparable visitor’s words. Bless you, Rupert Murdoch, wherever you worship, or not.

Most print coverage was, no big surprise, as skimpy and superficial as in the televised sector. If there were any lingering doubts about the anti-religious bias of the “mainstream” mass media, the Pope’s visit exposed it in all its shame.

For Catholics, the Pope’s visit had to have been soul-inspiring. And for non-Catholics, even non-Christians, there is no denying this Pope reached out and touched their hearts and minds. What Benedict achieved in his few days in our midst is wrapped in that common belief and yearning.

His message was transcending, although not new. It was what Jesus Christ devoted his life to preaching more than 2,000 years ago.

The novelty was the outpouring of Americans’ hunger for unabashed, undiluted, universal values. What made it all-the-more special was the revelation that so many Americans — by unmeasured millions and of all faiths — recognized their unmet hunger.

Responding to that longing was a man few of them had ever seen before, actually standing, without apology, for something of eternal value. Clearly, this country is growing fed up with moral relativism.

Even while the horrors of the radical-Islamist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were still in progress, Americans were saying this country will never be the same. Now, this Pope has validated their observation, in a way no one had anticipated on that horrible day. America is not like it was, and the pope’s visit, even more than the terrorists’ visit, has made that true.

Benedict’s influence will now have cascades of influence for years and years to come, in ways small and large. What spark of decency did he strike in some child’s life? What misbegotten public policy may he have called into question?

How refreshing to hear those two words — Jesus Christ — uttered again and again over the airways! And not as a televised, obligatory expletive.

Just think of it: Someone actually spoke well of religion . . . in public, no less. Not only did he get away with it; millions cheered. Was anyone in Hollywood or on Madison Avenue listening? How about the Pope’s ratings numbers?

Politicians who cannot stomach what the Pope was saying — and everyone knows who they are — will be hard put to slander him. They must now think long and hard before standing against what he stands for. Whether he intended to leave a political message, he did. It will soak into the American body politic.

It is no fantasy to suggest Pope Benedict XVI may well have turned around the kind of political discourse this nation will tolerate. We’ll find out soon enough.

Meanwhile, how touching it was to hear this pastor saying, in his parting words as his visit ended: “May God bless the United States!”

Beats the hell out of another pastor’s words: “God damn America! God damn America!”

John L. Perry, a prize-winning newspaper editor and writer who served on White House staffs of two presidents, is a regular columnist for Newsmax.com.

Read John Perry's columns here.

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