Ain't no party like a papal party

benedictxvi 01With all the coverage of Pope Benedict XVI's trip to the United States, some of it seems to just blur together. So I had to highlight a completely fresh take on the trip from the Washington Times' Julia Duin:

Pope Benedict XVI has two schedules for his upcoming U.S. visit: A jampacked list of official events and an unofficial schedule of evening meetings, including a huge birthday party at the Italian Embassy starring world-famous tenor Placido Domingo.

I'd been so focused on the official itinerary that I didn't even consider the private meetings and parties related to the pope's visit. There's no official word on whether the pope will attend the party but it is within walking distance of where he'll be staying. Duin spoke with insiders for further details about the private schedule:

[Raymond Flynn, ambassador to the Vatican during the Clinton administration,] also said there will be several off-the-record gatherings with the pope during his six days in the country.

"That's the way it always is when the pope comes," he said. "There are private conversations and discussions with people here. I think they want to keep those meetings as private as they possibly can. They [the Vatican] will release an official schedule, but they'll leave a lot out."

Inquiries around the Catholic community seemed to bear this out. Robert George, a leading Catholic scholar at Princeton University, implied he'd be meeting privately with the pope in Washington but refused to divulge details.

Where Duin gave some hints at what the papal visit might mean for those close enough to meet with him privately, the Washington Post took the completely opposite approach.

Michelle Boorstein wrote a story about what the visit means for people who aren't Catholic. If you thought it was bad that ten percent of Americans don't know Barack Obama is Christian, Boorstein reports that 10 percent of Americans don't know the pope is Christian! Well not quite -- they actually don't even know who Pope Benedict is. Anyway, here's a sample from the story:

Diane Winston, who covered the pope in the 1980s and now writes and teaches about religion and culture, says, "You can't underestimate the power of the costume." People are fascinated with the notion of this centuries-old spiritual lineage, she said. "Even if they're not Catholic, people appreciate what he represents, this chain of religious authority."

Not everyone is appreciative.

"He's a relic, a flashback to antiquity," Jon Meyers, a 40-year-old D.C. art director, said recently during a lunchtime errand downtown. The Vatican is an ivory tower, said Meyers, who calls himself "sort of Jewish."

On the next block, Lexa Lemieux, an atheist who works at a consulting firm, said she hadn't even heard the pope was coming and doesn't think he's relevant. How can he characterize birth control as wrong in such a poverty-stricken place as Africa? How can he think he knows what God wants? "I don't identify with the whole thing," she said.

Both of these stories ran the same day as that excellent Peter Steinfels piece in the New York Times predicting media surprise that the pope is still Catholic. This second story kind of fits that mold. Not that the perspective of non-Catholics isn't valuable. There's just kind of a reason why stories about people who don't watch the Oscars aren't as exciting as stories about the behind the scenes parties after the Oscars.

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