Pope Benedict XVI Calls for Basic Human Rights During His Visit to New York


Published: May 1, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI, leader of the Roman Catholic Church, of which three million New Yorkers belong, visited New York City and Wash., D.C. this past week in the second-ever visit of a pope to America. His visit garnered as much public and media attention as a celebrity might. The New York Times devoted its front page and numerous subsequent pages to the visit; pope blogs emerged; radio, television and magazine content was packed with papal commentary; and the streets of New York City were a gridlocked mess as onlookers flooded  Fifth Avenue to catch a glimpse as the “popemobile” sailed by.

The pope’s belief in “the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death” was the theme of his American venture.

The pope stated in his message to the United Nations that “there are universal values that transcend the diversity—cultural, ethnic or ideological—embodied in an institution like the United Nations, founded to help prevent the ruin of another world war. Those values are at the base of human rights,” he said, “as they are for religion.”

Kunick Kapadia, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’09,  agreed that religious concepts must be translated into secular terms when speaking to a nation that is comprised of a myriad of different religious beliefs. “Every religion talks about not killing other humans, not stealing, not physically harming others… but that’s only on a very basic level. I think people who don’t even believe in religion believe in these things.”

In his speech, the pope said, “Recognition of the transcendent value of every man and woman favors conversion of heart, which then leads to a commitment to resist violence, terrorism, war and to promote justice and peace.”

This commitment to basic human rights seemed to be the theme of the pope’s visit to America, a country that some feel is becoming increasingly secular and pluralistic. The pope’s emphasis on basic human rights was hence applicable even to those who do not embrace religion.

The pope’s itinerary included a trip to the White House, a visit to the United Nations, a visit to a Synagogue on Passover, talks with youth and two masses at professional baseball stadiums. The pope gave his last mass of the week in front of a packed crowd of 57,000 people at Yankee Stadium, where he summoned Americans to “move forward with firm resolve to use wisely the blessings of freedom in order to build a future of hope for coming generations.” He also addressed terrorism, at-risk youth and sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church at various points during his stay. He derided priests involved in such scandals, stating that such acts caused the Church to suffer both financially and morally.

In March, the Vatican added seven new deadly sins to the original list.  The new sins targeted drug dealers, those who pollute the environment, the rich and powerful and genetic engineers.

At Fordham, students were invited to participate in activities surrounding the pope’s visit. Activities included masses at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Yankee Stadium and the Pontiff’s meetings with Catholic youth, Orthodox Christian hierarchs and Catholic educators.

Michael Levoff, FCLC ’09, helped plan some of the events that surrounded the pope’s visit. “Planning started months before for the Archdiocese of New York,” he said. “Each event was very carefully orchestrated and required multiple planning meetings to produce what you saw on Saturday and Sunday. Security was a very important concern and the NYPD, in conjunction with the Secret Service, did a wonderful job protecting the Holy Father.”

Levoff also attended the Mass at Yankee stadium. “Everyone who was inside was assigned their ticket by the Archdiocese, so everyone who was there wanted to be there and was devout,” he reported. “The crowd cheered out his name. On one occasion, after blessing the altar… there was a moment of complete silence, [and] a man in the upper deck screamed out ‘We love you Benedict’ and the entire stadium laughed and cheered.”

The pope’s visit to America was situated in the midst of a heated electoral season. The Roman Catholic Church opposes abortion, and the pope encourages Catholics to vote against candidates in support of it. In a nation where 67 million Americans are Roman Catholics, and given the enthusiasm that surrounded the pope’s visit to New York, it remains to be seen what kind of impact his message will have on this large segment of voters.