The secular press is quite a buzz about Benedict XVI’s recent travel to Brazil without a passport. In the last few days multiple news agencies throughout the world have reported that Benedict flew the coup of the Vatican without his travelling papers. Good for him. His departure from the Eternal City sans a passport of any nature reflects the pontiff’s truly global mission and ministry. There are a lot of things that come to mind when you are about to embark on a sensitive apostolic and pastoral journey. 

I am sure his passport was the least thing on the papal mind. Quite certainly there are multilevel considerations for the Holy Father to remember before he grabs the papal valise and jets off to a remote territory of his Church. Many times the American and the European press marvel about the volume of luggage Queen Elizabeth II carries with her when she leaves the cottage of Buckingham Castle. They talk about her hats and matching outfits and how many vans it takes to transport her clothing and so on.

Could you imagine trying to be the clerical valet for Benedict XVI? There are lots of things to pack, white cassocks, vestments, pastoral staff, miters and all of the accessories that go with being the head of the Roman Catholic Church. Various ranks of ecclesiastical monsignors I am quite certain are in charge of the papal travel arrangements. Besides luggage, clothing and vestments…the Pope-mobile gets packed up, Swiss Guards change from their ceremonial costumes into dark suits and the Italian carabiniere all coordinate their responsibilities to assure the papal trip goes without a hitch. The fact that Benedict XVI left the Vatican without a troublesome thing such as a passport says a great deal about him.
Passports and the little stuff are really not what the Bishop of Rome is all about. His “about” is to visit his global parishioners. For the temporal and politically minded international borders and passports are important. For Peter’s Successor those things really don’t come to mind. The message of Benedict XVI transcends the physical limitations of travel restrictions, because his message is that of Jesus Christ. Where ever he goes, whatever he says, whatever he does is carefully coordinated and planned so that the Pope succeeds in his job…the fostering of Church’s message throughout the entire world. When you really think about it…it really is a refreshing thought that a solitary man is universally recognized, not only for his personal identity, but for the message he preaches.
As spiritual head of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict is the embodiment of the physical representation of Jesus Christ on earth. I cannot even imagine anyone would have the moxie to ask Jesus Christ for His passport, why would his physical representative need one as well? Besides in every place of the world the Catholic Church has a presence and a representation that follows a chain of command…ultimately to the guy in the white cassock. Harry Truman kept a plaque on his desk that summed up his view of presidential authority it said, “The Buck stops here.” Well that sentiment is really quite true of Pope Benedict as well. Another concept that we frequently cite as Catholics is this…”Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia.”, or “Where Peter is, there is the Church.” Such an axiom is a magnificent understanding of the uniquely universal role of the Pope and the transcendence of his pastoral ministry. When the Pope visits he reflects both a theological and human element in his ministry. Theological yes, because he brings the message of the Good News to the expectant world. Human, because he is the embodiment of Peter. Saint José Maria Escriva puts the entire point into correct focus.
We love to be with Peter, because with him is the whole Church, with him is God; and without him, God is not present.”
That places the entire papal passport oversight in its correct perspective. Whenever the Pope travels, he is really not going anywhere outside of his Church, simply visiting his faithful people. So who really needs the restrictions of a passport? It seems to me that Benedict XVI is so keenly attuned to the message and mission of Jesus Christ that he brings to the global community…a thing like a passport is redundant.

 

Besides, let’s be practical here. Is there anyone in the world that does not recognize Benedict XVI? The papal office has been universally and globally thrust into the world stage with the many travels of his immediate predecessor. No one in their right mind would attempt to stop him from entering into their country. So, when I see media reports that note the significance of his travelling without a passport I am ecstatic… a pope that needs a passport to be recognized needs a better public relations organization. Fortunately for us, Benedict’s face and likeness are just as well known as his message which advocates peace and love throughout the world.

The fact that the Pope travels without a passport or other travel papers truly reflects the great magnitude of the world’s need for Jesus and the Church’s message. So Holy Father …keep traveling with or without a passport!

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