A blip on Benedict’s enthusiasm meter

In the lead-up to Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to Mexico, news reports were oddly obsessed with a sort of popularity contest between the current and preceding pope. We kept joking about the secret “enthusiasm meters” reporters must be consulting to come up with stories such as this one from December:

Mexican worshippers underwhelmed by papal visit

Or this one from last week:

Predominantly Catholic Mexico not exactly thrilled about the pope’s visit this week.

You always knew where this popularity contest would end up, didn’t you. Here’s the Boston Globe‘s headline for a recent piece on the pope’s visit:

Pope’s arrival in Mexico sparks surprising emotion.

So maybe that secret enthusiasm meter the reporters have access to could use a tune-up. There’s also this Associated Press piece headlined:

Mexico joyfully welcomes Pope’s visit

Of course, some of us are wondering whether there might be more substantive news about the visit than how popular or unpopular Benedict is.

I thought this New York Times piece did a pretty good job of telling a bigger story. Here’s a part:

For his audience in Mexico, where Catholics are distraught over the deaths of 50,000 people since the government’s war against drug cartels began in late 2006, Pope Benedict emphasized that Mexico’s violence was caused by greed. The church, he told reporters on the papal plane, has a “great responsibility” in a country that is 83 percent Catholic to guide young people away from that false promise, “to educate the conscience, teach moral responsibility and strip off the mask, the idolatry of money that enslaves mankind.”

Speaking about Cuba, the pope also said on the plane that “Marxist ideology as it was conceived no longer corresponds to reality,” and he urged Cubans to “find new models, with patience, and in a constructive way.”

He added that the Catholic Church could play a key role in the transition to a post-Castro era. “In this process, which calls for patience but also much decisiveness, we want to help, in a spirit of dialogue, to avoid traumas and to help move toward a society that is fraternal and just, which is what we desire for the whole world,” he told reporters.

It remains to be seen how far Benedict will go in criticizing the Cuban government for its limits on human rights, and the Mexican government for its violent drug war, but within minutes of his arrival here, it was clear that he is likely to receive a warm welcome from the clergy and faithful.

I would have liked a bit more on the substance of the visit but the rest of the article was focused on contextualizing the visit — we get the obligatory references to Benedict’s comparative unpopularity and then a good six paragraphs on the scandal surrounding Father Marcial Maciel Degollado who, among other things fathered children out of wedlock, and Legionaries of Christ.

The Times has a good Cuba report, too. Completely different reporters are covering the two countries’ visits and they seem to have a nice balance of knowledge about the Vatican and the host country. The Times report from Cuba focused on the delicate position of the church after decades of forced atheism.

This Associated Press account was interesting, suggesting that any membership hardships the church faced in recent decades was due to left-leaning Catholics upset that the church didn’t embrace liberation theology. There’s no mention of the gains made by evangelical Protestants or any other religious group.

Both that AP story and this Reuters story had brief mentions of anti-clericalism in Mexico. Here’s Reuters:

On his way to the venue, the pope flew by helicopter over the giant hilltop monument with the statue of Christ the King, a symbol of the often stormy religious heritage of Mexico, which was officially anti-clerical for years after a 1910 revolution.

These references could have been fleshed out more and were in the New York Times piece mentioned above. Reuters also had this curious line:

The 84-year-old pope, wearing purple and white vestments, sprinkled the sermon he read from a massive white altar platform on a hillside with words such as conversion and reconciliation.

I know why he was wearing purple, as does any other liturgical Christian, but should it be explained to readers who don’t know? Also, that “sprinkling” language is weird, no? You don’t sprinkle sermons with words, usually. Or Benedict doesn’t seem to, at least. His sermons are usually pretty well composed and thought out. The language doesn’t match his style, in my opinion.

The final piece in the round-up is this Associated Press about the ebullient crowds that met Benedict. The reader who sent it in writes:

I read this thinking, “Hey, nothing about BXVI’s trying to prop up a pro-Catholic president. Hey, they’re willing to not stifle Benedict with passive-aggressive John Paul II comparisons.”

Then I found this: “…respect and adoration for the papacy itself, the personification for many of the Catholic Church, and God.” Personification of the Church? Look up “Body of Christ” in the Catechism–it’s all online in several languages.

Personification of God?!?!?! Look up “Incarnation” in the Catechism. And please put down the Jack Chick tract.

Yes, probably wise to be a bit more careful with our language when writing about, well, the Body of Christ, the pope, the church, etc.

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  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    “Stormy religious heritage,” “officially anti-clerical.” Egad–the news coverage needs more “fleshing out” than those wimpy words ignoring 90,000 Catholics murdered including 40 priests after 1917. In the year 2000 Pope John Paul II canonized as saints 25 of these, the most famous of whom, Saint Father Miguel Pro, was shot to death by a government firing squad as he courageously held his arms out to form a cross with his body. As they shot him he shouted out “Viva Cristo Rey!”-”Long live Christ the King!”
    Maybe our modern left-wing leaning media doesn’t want to mention these horrific events because they were done by an avowedly left-wing socialist government operating under the world’s first socialist constitution–even predating the Soviet constitution.
    All this information is easily available on-line so that a media outlet could find it very quickly to add colorful, interesting, dramatic context and background to their coverage. Indeed, the “Mexican Tragedy” is the whole first chapter in Robert Royal’s excellent book “The Catholic Martyrs of the 20th Century.”

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Note–the Ny Times single paragraph on this time watered down the persecution of that period wherein it was against the law for a priest to say Mass and most were driven out of the country for fear of being executed. The spin on the Times story is typical for them–it’s made to look like the Church–and its faithful- were primarily upset because of a loss of wealth and power–those Catholics objecting couldn’t possibly just want a Mexican government to follow the equivalent of our First Amendment (which IS what Catholics were seeking.)

  • Martha

    Imagine that – a sermon given during Lent, on Passion Sunday moreover which brings us into Passiontide, containing words like “conversion” and “reconciliation” – who would have thought? :-)

    As regards the “often stormy religious heritage”, I had occasion to look up articles of the Mexican Constitution a while back due to a story about attempts to remove the last anti-clerical articles from it, and according to Wikipediathe original 1917 constitution had these articles (which remained up to the 1992 amendment):

    “Articles 3, 5, 24, 27, and 130 as originally enacted were anticlerical and restricted religious freedoms, as well as the power of the Catholic Church, in part due to a desire by anticlerical framers to punish the Mexican Church’s Hierarchy for its support of Victoriano Huerta. Attempts to enforce the articles strictly by President Plutarco Elías Calles in 1926 led to the civil war known as the Cristero War.

    …Article 3 of the constitution required that education, in both public and private schools be completely secular and free of any religious instruction and prohibited religions from participating in education – essentially outlawing Catholic schools or even religious education in private schools. Article 3 likewise prohibited ministers or religious groups from aiding the poor, engaging in scientific research, and spreading their teachings. The constitution prohibited churches to own property and transferred all church property to the state – thus making all houses of worship state property.

    Article 130 of the constitution denied churches any kind of legal status and allowed local legislators to limit the number of ministers, (essentially giving the state the ability to ban religion) and banned any ministers not born in Mexico. It denied ministers freedom of association, the right to vote and freedom of speech, prohibiting them and religious publications from criticising the law or government. The constitution prohibited any worship outside of a church building, which essentially made Pope John Paul II’s outdoor masses and other religious celebrations during his 1980 and 1990 visits illegal acts under the law.”

    Of course, this was intended as a swipe against the Catholic Church, but it had the knock-on effect of applying to other denominations, such as Protestant missionary efforts.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Further note: If some NY Times reporters want to read a novel about one of those priests trying to avoid execution in Mexico, they could read what is considered one of the greatest works of literature of the 20th Century: “The Power and the Glory” by the famed British author Graham Greene. My copy is from the Penguin 20th Century Classics
    series. But do colleges or journalism schools these days bother with classics any more??? Classics are supposedly oh,so irrelevant.

  • Julia

    Check out John Ford’s 1947 movie “the Fugitive” based on Graham’s book and starring Henry Fonda.


    and there is a new movie coming out soon called “for the Greater Glory” starring Andy Garcia and Eva Longoria, about the Cristeros War.


  • Martha

    Deacon John, young people nowadays don’t read the books, they see the movies instead ;-)

  • Julia

    That’s why this old lady recommended the films.
    NetFlix is replacing Cliff Notes.