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Brennan Pursell on the Pope’s Impact on America
The author of Benedict of Bavaria gives his view on how the Pope reached Americans—including the media— during the days of his visit to the US.

Brennan Pursell, author of “Benedict of Bavaria,” published by Circle Press.
Brennan Pursell, author of “Benedict of Bavaria,” published by Circle Press.

Center Valley, PA. May 6, 2008. Brennan Pursell’s new book “Benedict of Bavaria” (Circle Press) gave him extensive media exposure in the days of the Pope’s visit to the United States. After 58 radio interviews, 18 newspaper and magazine interviews, and 3 television interviews, Pursell has a firsthand sense of how well the media, in particular, have grasped the Pope’s message. In the following interview, author Brennan Pursell explores the impact of the Pope’s visit to the United States and shares his own perspective on what Benedict XVI can teach those who take the time to get to know him.

You have been interviewed by almost 80 radio, television, and print media since the days of Pope Benedict´s visit to the United States. How well do you think the media has grasped the Pope´s message for the American people?

This is a good, important question, and we simply can´t avoid dividing the media into secular and Catholic.  Just according to my limited experience, Catholic media listened to Pope Benedict XVI´s clear message and understood, hands down: Got it, Your Holiness. 

Secular media, however, depends almost entirely on the predilections of the interviewer.  Some journalists are really interested and want to depict the Holy Father´s message in the context of contemporary American society.  Many unfortunately cannot escape the secular media´s five-sided obsession (sex, money, violence, celebrity, and great shows of emotion); these were interested only in the sex abuse crisis and really little else.  Others just have it in for the Church and laid into me about this and that. 

Finally, there were a handful of general Christian outlets with wildly different attitudes.  A couple represented our most well-meaning Protestant brethren, another was sulky and resentful, and then there was a shouty evangelical in Seattle who hurled about biblical quotes and Martin Luther´s sixteenth-century slogans, apparently thinking that would get us somewhere. 

All in all it was a wild ride.  

Do you think that the media has learned to see the Pope in a different way now that he has come to our country?
Good Heavens, I hope so!  Let´s pray that the nonsensical caricatures about Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger are gone for good!  Can anyone in their right mind now claim that Benedict XVI, having heard and watched him, is comparable to a German shepherd, a rottweiler (or any other canine), a prosecutor, an enforcement officer, a tank, or what have you?  I met a number of priests who told me, quite openly, how disappointed they were when they first heard of his election three years ago.  Now, they said, their minds have changed, totally. 

And no, Ratzinger
Benedict of Bavaria
is no different now as Benedict than he was before, in thought, word, and deed.  His position in the Church has changed, obviously, which accounts for the outpouring of joy that meets him wherever he goes. 

Even the grave Wolf Blitzer on CNN went on for about ten minutes, grinning ear to ear, telling how he, a non-Catholic, met the Pope, how he just couldn´t describe how he felt, how it was a truly unique, indescribable moment in his life, how even he just couldn´t think of anything to say, and how he would never forget it. 

Watching that, I couldn´t help thinking, "Well, heck, he is the Vicar of Christ after all." 
What, in your opinion, is the single most important message that the Pope came to give the American people?
The same as the core message of his pontificate: that God is love, and this love is everything true, good, noble, and beautiful.  It shows us the way forward through a world of sin and pain and suffering.  It gives us a real, definite hope, and, when we devote our lives to it, in this hope we are saved.  

What aspect of Pope Benedict´s personality do you think could teach us (Americans) the most and why?
His humility is exemplary, and is part and parcel with his reserved temperament.  I could not find a single source that showed him lose his temper.  One rather critical journalist wrote gleefully, "I know he was furious, I saw him roll his eyes."  Roll his eyes?  Furiously, at that?  Aha.  This is not to say that Benedict never gave into his temper in his life.  I just could not find anyone claiming to have seen or hear him do so.  He strives to live the teaching of St. Francis de Sales, that anger never serves any good purpose, unless it is genuinely righteous and against our own sinfulness, and even then we must keep it in check. 

I am not saying that we Americans are an angry people, but I think many of us could benefit from a bit more self-restraint in most walks of life.
How did your experience of writing Benedict of Bavaria change or enrich you?
The book was a gift, born of prayer.  Researching it was the purest kind of pleasure.  It wrote itself, really.  My prayer life is now richer, deeper, more heart-felt, and yet simpler.  My love for the Church and humanity has grown, too.  I can´t say how or why.  I don´t pretend to understand these things, I just thank God for the gift of spirit.  
Which of Pope Benedict´s (or Cardinal Ratzinger´s) books would you most recommend for beginning readers and why?
Still, although it is nearly a dozen years old, one of the best ways to meet the mind of Benedict XVI is Salt of the Earth, an interview he gave, as Cardinal Ratzinger, to a journalist who had it in for him.  Afterwards, the man returned to the Church.  The text is an accessible conversation, and you can easily see Ratzinger´s great mind and gentle heart at work together.  (Skip the section on the Church in Germany if it goes on too long.) 

Then there is the next installment, so to speak, another dialogue with the same journalist, now a faithful Catholic, about a wide range of subjects.  That book, God and the World, shows you the enormous breadth of Benedict´s learning.  As it goes on effortlessly, you have to remind yourself that it is a transcription of an interview conducted in a single weekend.  Ratzinger never stopped to look up anything.  His answers are clear, authoritative, and uplifting.  No editor needed, really.  The man is a genius. 
What do you think this Pope´s legacy to the world will be?
One Catholic radio host told me we have a future Doctor of the Church on our hands.  That may be going a bit far, as one has to be a canonized saint first.  The Spirit is in charge of that one, as in all things.  But I think Benedict XVI and John Paul the Great together, through their encyclicals, their other speeches and writings, and the splendid new Catechism, will calm the turbulence in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, as far as history allows it. 

The Church is always facing one crisis or another, as many within as from without.  History will only end when God wills it, and until that time, humanity´s freedom of the will, that God gives us, will keep things, shall we say, more than interesting.



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