By Miriam Díez i Bosch
ROME, MAY 6, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI’s zealous promotion of human rights during his trip to the United States has direct consequences for women, says the president of a Catholic women’s group.
Karen Hurley is the president of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations, which aims to promote the presence, participation and co-responsibility of Catholic women in society and Church.
In this interview with ZENIT, Hurley gives a review of the Pope’s trip to the United States last month, and explains why his trip brought such a positive reaction.
Q: What is your personal impression of Benedict XVI’s apostolic visit to the United States?
Hurley: We are still basking in the glow of the apostolic visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the USA. For me it was such a joy to have our Holy Father visit my homeland.
Through my service in the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations, I have been blessed to be able to greet both Pope John Paul II as well as Pope Benedict XVI, both in Rome and at Castel Gandolfo. But most Americans only see our Holy Father from a distance through the media. People traveled from every state to Washington, D.C., and New York City to catch a glimpse of our Holy Father in person.
There was such elation, as well as deep abiding peace, when one saw the Pope. People clutching cameras forgot to take photographs because they were smiling and waving at the Pope.
Stadiums packed with worshippers were hushed with silence so all could hear each and every word spoken by our Holy Father.
Beginning on the sunny afternoon our Holy Father stepped off Shepherd One and was welcomed by President Bush until six days and nights later as the Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Sambi, Vice President and Mrs. Cheney stood on the airport runway waving good-bye, the spiritual and emotional connections deepened.
There was a tremendous witness of faith, a greater conviction that Christ is our hope, and an outpouring of love on the part of all whose lives were touched by this visit.
Q: The Pope himself has confessed he learned a lot about you, American Catholics. Is this encouraging for you?
Hurley: Yes, this is very encouraging because I believe our Holy Father found Americans who are committed to professing and living our Catholic faith in the midst of secular cultural influences.
Pope Benedict’s words reflected his knowledge of the history of our nation, but also his awareness of the challenges and opportunities that face us in the present day.
The Holy Father, in his quiet, caring manner, was able to “meet people where they are”: clergy and vowed religious, laity, women and men, young people, children with disabilities, representatives of other religions, and, quite poignantly, survivors of clergy sexual abuse.
In Pope Benedict’s own words, he came as “a friend, a preacher of the Gospel.” But he certainly spent his time listening, as well as preaching, learning as well as educating, and praying as well as being a sign of Christ’s healing and peace to all whose lives he touched.
Americans also learned a lot about Pope Benedict XVI whom they compare to his predecessor, beloved John Paul II.
Clearly they are two different personalities with unique gifts which the Lord has called forth in his service.
Any earlier misperceptions held by some Americans of Cardinal Ratzinger in his previous role as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith were shattered by this personal encounter with a compassionate Pope Benedict XVI who pastorally enunciated the truths of our faith.
Q: Is there a special message for the mission of women that you could learn from this papal trip?
Hurley: Our Holy Father spoke clearly of the dignity of every human person created in the image and likeness of God. His words resonate particularly during this 20th anniversary year of Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter, “Mulieris Dignitatem,” On the Dignity and Vocation of Women.
Referring to the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the role of the United States of America in the international community, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged efforts to build “a world where the God-given dignity and rights of every man, woman and child are cherished, protected and effectively advanced.”
For the members of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations, this encompasses our mission to work for human rights beginning with the fundamental right to life, the education of women and girls, caring for the poor, the sick and the stranger, and advocating for justice based on God’s moral law.
Before his election, then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in the “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World”:
“It is women, in the end, who even in very desperate situations, as attested by history past and present, possess a singular capacity to persevere in adversity, to keep life going even in extreme situations, to hold tenaciously to the future, and finally to remember with tears the value of every human life.”
Our Holy Father reminded all men and women of our God-given dignity. A reality of the dignity of women is a “capacity for the other,” which elicits life and contributes to the growth and protection of all those entrusted to our care.
Q: Everybody seems happy about this visit. Why has it been so important at this particular moment in history?
Hurley: So many people are searching for meaning and purpose in their lives.
Others may have grown lukewarm in their faith. Still others were actively seeking a more intimate union with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Pope Benedict came to the United States of America to preach the Gospel message, “Christ our Hope.” This was the message people of all ages and stages of life needed to hear and to respond to.
Our Holy Father’s visit presented a unique opportunity for all people of good will to experience a personal encounter with the Lord; an encounter which impels one to share the good news with others, like the Samaritan woman at the well.
Indeed, people are now sharing their faith, hope and love with renewed fervor.
With the grace of God, the fruits of this visit will continue to flourish for years to come as the seeds that were planted begin to grow.