Even as Pope Benedict XVI’s tumultuous 2010 was drawing to a close with grueling Advent and Christmas liturgies, attention turned to his schedule for 2011. The confirmed papal calendar for the year has the pope heading to Spain, Germany, Croatia and Benin. He will also publish the eagerly anticipated second volume in his trilogy, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
The papal trips will offer new opportunities for the pope to advance three of the major themes of his pontificate — the new evangelization, Catholic social teaching, and promoting the spiritual and pastoral needs of people in the Third World. All of his journeys are likely to be accompanied by media-generated controversy.
The pope has used virtually every journey in Europe to speak about the perils of post-Christian society and reclaim both the spiritual roots of the West and the confidence to proclaim Christ in ways that are meaningful to the postmodern mind. This has been a fertile field for Pope Benedict, especially during his trip to England in September, where he gave encouragement to English, Welsh and Scottish Catholics and reminded a secularized British people that God still must have a manifest role in society.
Similarly, in his visit to Barcelona and Santiago de Compostela, Spain, in November, Pope Benedict spoke out against secularization and the spread of the culture of death in one of the traditional bastions of Catholicism.
Pope Benedict’s participation in World Youth Day in Madrid in August is certain to include a return to the theme of the new evangelization, most so when he addresses young people who are expected to come from all over the globe to be with him. As he wrote last August in his message to young people in anticipation of World Youth Day: “Experience tells us that a world without God becomes a ‘hell’: filled with selfishness, broken families, hatred between individuals and nations, and a great deficit of love, joy and hope. On the other hand, wherever individuals and nations accept God’s presence, worship him in truth and listen to his voice, then the civilization of love is being built” (No. 3).
He will reiterate that lesson during his planned journey to Germany in September, his third since being elected pope, with stops in Berlin, Freiburg and Erfurt.
Economic, abuse crises
But hanging over the visits to Spain and Germany will be the mounting financial emergency facing Europe, with Spain already crippled by massive debt and economic ineptitude and Germany viewed as the linchpin for efforts to solve a spiraling European Union debt problem. The pope will likely use his 2009 social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (“Charity in Truth”), to highlight the ways that responsible economic development is tied to justice and that all economic decisions have moral consequences.
Germany brings one other challenge. The sex abuse cases that have recently plagued German dioceses reached a boiling point in 2010 and threatened to drag the pope himself into the scandal after the press questioned his role in the transfer of an abuser priest to Munich (where then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was archbishop) for treatment, after which the priest was discovered guilty of further abuse of minors. The news media unquestionably will turn the sex abuse issue into the dominant one leading up to the visit.
The sex abuse crisis will feature at the end of the year as well when the U.S. bishops begin their ad limina visits. The bishops are required to travel in regional groups to meet with the pope and Vatican officials every five years and give reports on the status of their dioceses. The pope’s address to each group will be followed closely by observers, in particular as they relate to the scandal and what will by then be the upcoming U.S. presidential election.
A different controversy will await the pope when he arrives in Croatia in June, on his first trip there as pope. In Zagreb, he will celebrate the National Day of Croatian Catholic Families, but he will also visit the tomb of Blessed Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, the one-time archbishop of Zagreb who died in 1960 a martyr to communism and was beatified in 1998. Cardinal Stepinac has been accused of supporting the anti-Semitic and violent activities of the fascist Ustaša movement in Croatia, despite the clear record of his protests and his nomination twice as a “righteous among the nations” for his work on behalf of the Jews. Media will be poised to focus on the accusations and will wonder if the visit will “negatively impact” Catholic-Jewish relations.
Similar uproar attended the pope’s visit to Cameroon in March 2009 because of his comments regarding the use of condoms, and the spread of HIV/AIDS will be part of the discussion surrounding the pope’s arrival in the West African country of Benin for three days in November. He will mark the 150th anniversary of the evangelization of Benin and, more notably, he will present his next post-synodal apostolic exhortation, a reflection on the work of the Synod of Bishops for Africa that was held at the Vatican in October 2009. The pope will reflect on the problems confronting Africa and will return in part to Caritas in Veritate to stress the relationship between the openness to life and authentic economic development.
One other voyage for 2011 might be to the Dominican Republic that was announced by the bishops of the country, although no formal date has been set by the Vatican Press Office.
Continuing Christ’s story
While most papal excursions within Italy are less than internationally notable, the planned stop in Venice and Aquileia in May will place Pope Benedict in a position to shape two key pastoral initiatives for the Church in Italy and Southern Europe. The first will be a gathering of pastoral leaders from dioceses in northeastern Italy, Slovenia, Croatia and Austria, and the second is the concluding event in a series of visits across the entire patriarchate of Venice under Cardinal Angelo Scola in the last six years.
The programs, especially the interdiocesan initiative, are intended to find solutions to what Cardinal Scola said recently “is being called post-secularism — namely, this phase in which many speak of a forgetfulness of God.”
Finally, the biggest papal literary event will be the release of “Jesus of Nazareth: From The Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection,” the second volume in the trilogy on the life of Christ. The first volume has sold more than 2.5 million copies, and the second will include Pope Benedict’s meditations on some of the deepest questions of the Christian faith.
As with the departing year, 2011 will probably be like the last five years of Pope Benedict’s pontificate, and that means unexpected events, controversy and the press once again shocked by the success of this consistently underestimated pontiff. It should be an interesting year.
Matthew Bunson is editor of The Catholic Answer and co-author of “Pope Benedict XVI and the Sexual Abuse Crisis” (OSV, $12.95).