A cacophony of preemptive praise and criticism has, inevitably, engulfed the national conversation as the public prepares for Pope Benedict XVI’s first official voyage to the United States. The pontiff’s delegation has a feast of earthly issues to deal with on top of its theological goals – from the logistical nightmare of offering Mass at Yankee Stadium to the political tightrope of picking appropriate places for the potential papal presence.

Additionally, as the head of the Catholic Church sets foot on American soil, opinions are mixed and speculation is rife over what he is going to say, particularly among Catholic groups. Of course, at Georgetown, the first Catholic university founded in the United States, that conversation will place at a safe distance from the Holy Father himself. Although Benedict will deliver an address at the Catholic University of America, he will not make the trek across town to speak on the Hilltop. This seems somewhat appropriate: Many Catholic bishops and conservative Catholic organizations criticize universities like Georgetown for permitting the presence of groups that publicly and actively stand in opposition to the Church on any number of social issues. From H*yas for Choice to the future LGBTQ resource center to productions of “The Vagina Monologues” on campus, Georgetown’s willingness to let students speak their minds has strained its relationship with the Church. However, Georgetown has much to offer the Catholic community, including the pope.

On the way to Georgetown, the pope would have a chance to look outside the bulletproof panes of his Pope Mobile and see the disturbing dichotomy of D.C. The six-mile trip from Catholic University over to our neck of the woods would take the pontiff past Howard University, across Georgia Avenue, through Columbia Heights, down U Street and through Rock Creek Park. On this short journey, not only can the pope soak up a concentrated dose of the profound history of American struggle, but he can witness firsthand the troubles that remain a blight on the nation’s capital: visible homelessness, degrading poverty and lingering and unforgivable inequality between ethnic groups. These are the very human and very unavoidable issues that are at the heart of what the Catholic mission speaks for.

With a trip to our campus, he’ll see the benefits of a progressive Catholic environment, such as: a peaceful but passionate exchange of views over Israel and Palestine, a charitably minded student body and active conversations about diversity and acceptance. A fairly conservative pontiff might do well to see some of the benefits of a liberal Catholicism at work on campus.

Several high-ranking Catholic officials, including the Vatican’s Cardinal Barragan and the highly influential former Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Martini, have demonstrated a willingness to bring the Church more in line with the social realities of the modern day. Many have indicated a willingness to ease the Church’s absolutist stance on artificial means of birth control to combat HIV virus. Georgetown could serve as a shining example for the pope of how moving away from an antiquated approach to Catholicism can benefit a community.

The point is, our college might not be that most-favored by the Vatican, but a look at D.C. beyond Catholic University and the shiny new Nationals Park might give a more thought-provoking edge to the pope’s visit.

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