We are beginning to see some interesting advance stories based on the texts that Pope Benedict XVI will use during his upcoming trip to Washington, D.C., and New York City. This is very tricky territory, as any reporter will tell you who has covered one of these trips -- the Olympics of Godbeat writing. Here is an example of why.
While in New York, Benedict will visit Ground Zero. Rest assured that one of the tmatt trio questions will come into play, as journalists cover this event. Which one? In this case, watch out for controversies linked to No. 2:
(2) Is salvation found through Jesus Christ, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6)?
Now, here is the full prayer text as released by the Vatican:
O God of love, compassion, and healing, look on us, people of many different faiths and traditions, who gather today at this site, the scene of incredible violence and pain.
We ask you in your goodness to give eternal light and peace to all who died here -- the heroic first-responders: our fire fighters, police officers, emergency service workers, and Port Authority personnel, along with all the innocent men and women who were victims of this tragedy simply because their work or service brought them here on September 11, 2001.
We ask you, in your compassion to bring healing to those who, because of their presence here that day, suffer from injuries and illness. Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy. Give them strength to continue their lives with courage and hope. We are mindful as well of those who suffered death, injury, and loss on the same day at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Our hearts are one with theirs as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering. God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world: peace in the hearts of all men and women and peace among the nations of the earth. Turn to your way of love those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred. God of understanding, overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy, we seek your light and guidance as we confront such terrible events.
Grant that those whose lives were spared may live so that the lives lost here may not have been lost in vain. Comfort and console us, strengthen us in hope, and give us the wisdom and courage to work tirelessly for a world where true peace and love reign among nations and in the hearts of all.
So where is the controversy in that text?
Here is the lede for a Reuters report by Philip Pullella about this prayer:
Pope Benedict will pray for the conversion to love "of those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred" when he visits New York's Ground Zero, the site of the World Trade towers destroyed on September 11, 2001.
A prayer he will read also commemorates those who died or were injured in the other September 11 attack at the Pentagon and on United Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers fought off hijackers. Nearly 3,000 people died in the September 11 attacks, including the 19 hijackers.
There are several questions here. For example, what, pray tell, does "conversion to love" mean?
The crucial phrases to be used by the pope are the following. First, there is the prayer to "give eternal light and peace" to all who died, which would, naturally, include the 19 hijackers. Later, the pope will pray for God to, "Turn to your way of love those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred." This is interesting language, since "turn to" is a phrase that, in New Testament language, is, literally, the meaning of the word "repent."
The headline for the Reuters report jumps on this angle: "Pope Ground Zero prayer seeks terrorists' redemption." At first I thought that was a bad headline, but now I think that it does capture the essence of the text.
So the pope is praying for the eternal salvation of terrorists, including the leaders and followers in the Al-Qaeda plot. This may offend Muslims, since it can be read as a prayer for the conversion of some Muslims -- in this life or the next. It will certainly raise eyebrows among Christians who believe that it's impossible for non-Christians to find salvation after death, and certainly after the non-Christians in question have flown passenger planes into towers full of defenseless people. Both sides of that coin are controversial.
Stay tuned. And let us know about the other interesting pre-visit stories that you see in the mainstream media.