My friend Mr. John L. Allen, Jr., the fair-minded and nearly ubiquitous former Rome correspondent for the left-leaning National Catholic Reporter has an interesting aside in this week’s Friday missive. Just start reading and you’ll get to it, which I will emphasize:
I was in Washington, D.C., this week for a Tuesday luncheon sponsored by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. George Weigel and I had been invited by Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum, to brief reporters on Pope Benedict XVI’s April 15-20 visit to the United States. As Weigel put it, he was there to offer an "op/ed" perspective, with emphasis on the pope and Islam, while I tried to fill the "news hole" with a broad overview.
A transcript of that session can be found on the Pew Forum Web site at www.pewforum.org.
Later Tuesday afternoon, I ventured a couple miles down Massachusetts Avenue to visit the Apostolic Nunciature, the embassy of the Holy See to the United States, for an interview with the pope’s top man in America: Italian archbishop and veteran papal diplomat Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the papal nuncio (ambassador).
Benedict XVI will be staying at the nunciature in Washington, though Sambi demurred when I asked him to show me the pope’s room; apparently the U.S. Secret Service has imposed a gag order on that bit of information. Sambi was happy, however, to show off a few bits of spit-and-polish around the house. For example, a new bank of trees has been installed on the grounds to shield its garden from the busy street outside, in case the pope wants to take a private walk around its small oval path.
Sambi also showed me the nunciature’s chapel, where Benedict will say Mass on the morning of April 16 before heading to the White House for a closed-door session with President George W. Bush. April 16 happens to be Benedict’s 81st birthday, and as Sambi put it, the small nunciature staff "will be his family that day."
(Liturgy wonks may be interested to learn that, according to Sambi, the design of the chapel means the pope will celebrate his birthday Mass versus populum, facing the small congregation, rather than ad orientem, facing East.)
LOL! Thanks, Mr. Allen!