Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Note to Next Bishop: Invite the Pope to Knoxville

Today the Holy Father will arrive in Washington at around 3:30pm. The anticipation of this apostolic visit has been building for many months, and the Knights of Columbus have collectively gotten in on the act by dedicating all First Degrees to the Pope between now and June. I came very close to petitioning the Chancery of the Diocese of Knoxville for a ticket allotment to one of the D.C. public events (I didn't want to bother with the mess that will be New York), but Nicole could not have guaranteed that she could get the time off.

This is a diplomatic visit for the Pope, however. He will be meeting the President and addressing the United Nations while he is here. The other pastoral events are the things a Pope can be expected to do-he's not going to visit some place for a summit of world leaders and not make Christ the center of his activities. For the Pope to visit any American city (or any city in the world, for that matter) on a purely pastoral visit, he has to be invited to do so.

The local bishop is who invites the Pope to come to a community for a pastoral visit, and he usually does so when he visits Rome for his ad limina visit (a trip to Rome for prayer at the major basilicas and meetings with the Pope that takes place every five years or so). The Diocese of Knoxville currently has no bishop, and we anxiously await word as to who that person will be. Whenever the next bishop is appointed, perhaps he should keep in mind that John Paul II once visited Columbia, South Carolina-a place with about as many Catholics as Knoxville.

I'm sure our new bishop, whoever he may be, will be looking for ways to get his flock fired up and energized-and all new bishops say they want to "bring the Church closer to the people." I really can't think of a better way to do that than a Papal visit to Rocky Top. The next bishop really ought to consider inviting the Holy Father to come to Knoxville.

Somehow I don't think that the University of Tennessee will have much of a problem lending Neyland Stadium out for a Pontifical Mass. I doubt accommodations will be much of a problem, either. Some hotels can brag that the President stayed there, not many can say that the Vicar of Christ took up residence for a couple of days on the top floor. I think the Diocese of Knoxville could pull it off, and would Mayor Haslam and Mike Ragsdale really want to say no to having the Pope in town just for a day or two, even with the traffic and the security?

Knoxville and East Tennessee would never be the same again-and I think we could pull it off. If John Paul could go to Columbia, South Carolina, Benedict XVI can come to Knoxville.

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