GWEN IFILL: Now, for most Americans, Pope Benedict is kind of an enigma. What has he come here to tell America, especially the Catholic laity?
JOHN ALLEN: Well, first of all, I think you’re quite right that Benedict is in many ways a question mark for the American public. A recent survey by the Pew Forum found that 80 percent of Americans, including two-thirds of the almost 70 million Catholics in this country, say they know nothing or almost nothing about the pope.
So, in many ways, this is his debut on the American stage. And I think fundamentally what he has come to do, beyond simply introducing himself, is to try to bring a message of what he calls Christian hope, that is, make the argument that the Catholic Church joins all people of goodwill in trying to build a better world to foster peace and justice and so on and that, in his own view, the key to that lies in the teaching and in the person of Jesus Christ.
Now, that can sound a little abstract, perhaps, or a bit pious, but when you start hashing that out in terms of what it means in the concrete, there are some very pointed social and political consequences to the pope’s message.
It includes, on the one hand, opposition to things like abortion and embryonic stem cell research, but also compassion for immigrants, a topic the pope spoke on board the papal plane about, a desire to see peace in Iraq, a peaceful transition there, and so on.
So it’s a spiritual and pastoral message, but one that does clearly have a social and political edge.