A few summers ago I spent some time on a little project where I wrote letters to some major leaders around the world whom I admired. I only got a form letter from the office of Queen Elizabeth. But the pope wrote me back.
After his elevation to the papacy I read Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures. I was impressed, and still want to read more of his work. As I learned more about him, I liked everything I read. In my letter I specifically mentioned his scholarship (he speaks several languages, reads ancient Hebrew and Greek, and has a long history of professional publication–in fact, some highlights from his career come from his role as one of Catholicism’s leaders in doctrine and theology), his passion for classical music (he’s an accomplished pianist and his favorite composer is Mozart), and especially his unwavering commitment to preaching traditional morality in the face of harsh criticism from the mainstream world (from “the great and spacious building,” we Latter-day Saints would say).
In May 2007, Pope Benedict visited Brazil, where he preached modesty and chastity to a nation that luxuriates in its skimpy clothing, premarital sex, and cohabitation. I remember hearing on the news at the time that this address was widely scoffed at by Brazilians, which astounded me. What possible mentality tells them that their culture supersedes the authority of the world leader of their religion? That visit gave me a lot of respect for Pope Benedict, but didn’t do much for my opinion of some Brazilian Catholics.
More recently, he’s taken flack for refusing to compromise with critics on promoting condoms as the solution to the AIDS epidemic in Africa. Good for him. Hold the line. He’s also given multiple addresses that I’ve seen in the news where he’s condemned the Western world’s growing obsession with the “dictatorship of relativism.” Amen, and amen.
I also told him that I was glad to see Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney invited to the Vatican for the elevation of Cardinal Sean O’Malley; that it was the kind of friendly invitation that people in our church don’t often get, and that I appreciated the gesture.
I closed by assuring him of my respect and admiration, and pledging to pray for his health, happiness, and success in his mission of preaching Christ to the world.
A couple of months later, I got a letter with a return address from the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C. The entire text reads:
From the Vatican, 14 September 2006
Dear Mr. Huston,
The Holy Father has received your letter and he has asked me to thank you. He appreciates the sentiments which prompted you to share your thoughts with him.
His Holiness will remember your intentions in his prayers. He invokes upon you God’s blessings of joy and peace.
Monsignor Gabriele Caccia, Assessor
I think I can take that literally to mean that the pope read my letter, liked it, and assigned this ambassador to respond on his behalf. Incidentally, I spent a long time online finding an “address” for the pope, though I now realize I probably could have just addressed it to “Pope, Vatican” and it would have gotten to him just fine.
I’m not Catholic myself, but I recognize the strength of goodness when I see it. There are some basic values that everybody, and certainly all people of faith, should get behind, and I think those values are greatly represented by Pope Benedict.