Father Richard John Neuhaus chatted with Beliefnet about the pope's recent visit to the Holy Land and John Paul II's papacy on Yahoo, Monday, March 27, at 6 p.m. EST. As with all chats, this transcript is unedited. ----------------------------------------------------------- beliefnet_ellen: Beliefnet welcomes Father Richard John Neuhaus. He heads the Institute on Religion and Public Life and is editor in chief of First Things magazine. His latest book, published this year, is "Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus From the Cross" (Basic Books). father_neuhaus: It's very good to be with you. I'm eager to see what questions are proposed. honey_crash asks: What is the significance of the pope's visit to the holy land?

father_neuhaus: I think that it's going to be one of those few moments that will, in retrospect, be rightly called historic for Jewish-Christian relations, and also for Muslim-Christian relations, and for its powerful representation of the core beliefs of Christianity.

zooey_franny asks: Was the pope's visit religious or political in meaning?

father_neuhaus: It was certainly religious and spiritual in its focus. It's properly called not just a visit but a pilgrimage. A pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Only secondly is it a visit to Palestine, Israel, and other political entities of the region.

naropapoet asks: Since Vatican II, how connected, really, is today's Catholic Church with that of the church in past centuries? Hasn't the modern Catholic Church schismed itself away from its past?

father_neuhaus: No, I don't think so. Sometimes people talk about the pre- and post-Vatican II church, as though there were two churches. But in historical fact, there has been only one church. And in theological terms, there can be only one church, because there is only one Christ and the church is the Body of Christ.

StormWolf_001 asks: Will the pope visit the U.S.A. again anytime soon in this Jubilee year?

father_neuhaus: There are no plans for his visiting during the Jubilee Year, but if he is pope--as I ferevently hope--for years to come, there may well be another visit to the U.S.

yahtaa_man asks: How do you feel about the pope's safety and health while traveling?

father_neuhaus: As for his safety, I think the Israelis are to be warmly commended for their solicitude. As for his health, we've seen in the Holy Land--as we've seen before--that he seems to grow stronger as the days go by.

pro_life6000000 asks: Did the Israeli government apologize for the anti-pope graffiti, where the pope was suppose to land?

father_neuhaus: No, I don't think they did. I'm sure it embarrassed them. But I am sure that the government did not put up the graffiti, so there is no need for the government to apologize.

jedi_leader_of_peace asks: What relgion are you?

father_neuhaus: I am Roman Catholic.

Andrew_572 asks: I think the church needs to take a bigger role in the entire world. Why does the pope not speak more often to the people of the world? All we hear is government and politics; we need the church to be more involved in our everyday lives.

father_neuhaus: Oh, I think the pope speaks regularly to the world, meaning that he speaks to everybody. For instance, in major documents, such as those that are called encyclicals, they are addressed to the bishops, then to all the Catholic faithful, then to all Christians, and then to "all people of goodwill."

benquo asks: Who's going to be the next pope?

father_neuhaus: There is always speculation about the next pope, even from the very first day that a new pope is elected. Most such speculation is entirely futile.

drink_the_fountain_of_decay asks: What is the general state of things in the church right now, father?

father_neuhaus: I think, despite much evidence to the contrary, the Catholic Church is in a stronger position--both internally and in its relation to the world, as well as to other Christians--than has been the case for at least 400 years.

yahtaa_man asks: So what's your opinion on the pope visiting the dome and rock?

father_neuhaus: It was very important that he do so, since a key emphasis of his pilgrimage was to underscore the fact that Jerusalem is truly a world city and a place of singular importance for the three Abrahamic faiths--namely Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

jedi_leader_of_peace asks: Do you like the popemobile?

father_neuhaus: Not particularly, but I suppose it's the most practical way of moving the Holy Father around and through huge crowds.

Somnabulisma asks: What are the pope's feelings about the up-coming feature film based on his life?

father_neuhaus: There are several films in the works, one of which is based on George Weigel's biography of the pope, titled "Witness to Hope." If the film is faithful to that book, it will, I believe, be a truly great presentation of John Paul II, his life, and his thought.

Somnabulisma asks: What are the pope's feelings on Cardinal O'Connor's service to the church?

father_neuhaus: I know personally from conversations with the Holy Father that he has the highest regard for Cardinal O'Connor. When Cardinal O'Connor first came, as archbishop of New York, in 1984 on his first visit to Rome, the pope greeted him with the words, "Welcome to the archbishop of the capital of the world." That's really something if you're the archbishop of Rome.

zooey_franny asks: Is the pope more than a figurehead--can he impart change in the Holy Land?

father_neuhaus: Oh yes. He's immeasurably more than a figurehead. Look at his role in the collapse of communism. And as for the Middle East, he believes there, as everywhere else, the religious and cultural factor is more important than political and economic and military factors.

john_e_f24 asks: Is there any place the pope really enjoyed?

father_neuhaus: I know he has a fierce attachment to his homeland, namely Poland.

Red_Walrus asks: After the pope's visit, do you see the Vatican and Jerusalem becoming closer?

father_neuhaus: The Holy See, which is the proper name (rather than Vatican), is already closer to Israel and to the other peoples of the Middle East than was the case even 10 days ago.

crblye asks: Father, what are the pope's major goals for the remainder of his papacy?

father_neuhaus: If you ask the Holy Father what is the number one hope that he had in the beginning and has now for his pontificate, he answers, without skipping a beat, "Christian unity."

chuckster316_2000 asks: Father: Do the cardinals normally elect a pope from their own kindred or can any person, ordained or not ordained, become the pope?

father_neuhaus: He would have to be ordained, because he has to be the bishop of Rome. It is by virtue of being the bishop of Rome and the successor to Saint Peter, that he is the pope in the first place. But, theoretically, it need not be a cardinal, although for the last almost 1,000 years, it always has been.

rosemary_777 asks: Do you think that the Catholic Church has a lot of ground to cover to make up for the pain of the Jews in the world? I thought the pope's visit to the Jewish memorial was great!

father_neuhaus: Well, I think what the pope did in Jerusalem, and particularly at Yad Vashem--the Holocaust memorial--was to indicate that the way forward for all of us is to acknowledge and confess our sins and break the chains of hatred and resentment by the power of forgiveness.

john_e_f24 asks: Will Pope John Paul II be the only Polish pope in history?

father_neuhaus: He is the first Polish pope in history, of course, but not necessarily the last. Although I suppose it would be surprising if another Slavic pope were elected in the near future.

ThereseAvila asks: Father, what are the Holy Father's views on Communion in the hand?

father_neuhaus: In Catholic practice, the Body of Christ may be received either on the tongue or in the hand. At his own Masses, in Rome and elsewhere, I have noticed that he almost always communicates people by placing the host on the tongue.

chuckster316_2000 asks: Does the pope have an e-mail address or a PC in his study?

father_neuhaus: There is an e-mail address for the Holy See, but my impression is that the pope himself does not use a computer.

kjkressler asks: What was the reaction of the people of Israel?

father_neuhaus: The reaction seemed to be--much to the surprise of many Israelis--almost unanimously positive. And the prime minister's remarks at Yad Vashem were--I think--universally acclaimed as being marvelously gracious.

asimp_2000 asks: Where do you stand on women's ordination?

father_neuhaus: Well, on this and other questions, I stand with the authoritative teaching of the Church, which is that the church is not authorized by Christ to ordain women to the priesthood.

dovetail66 asks: I have recently acquired an interest in the Catholic religion, so forgive me for being so naive, but how long has the pope been the pope? He has undoubtedly made drastic changes in history.

father_neuhaus: John Paul II has been the pope since 1978. Of course, Catholics believe that he is the 264th pope in succession to the first bishop of Rome, Saint Peter.

Pimp_KoRn asks: What's the pope's real name?

father_neuhaus: His real name is Karol Wojtyla.

naropapoet asks: How exactly are you involved in the day-to-day life of the pope?

father_neuhaus: Oh, I'm not involved in the day-by-day life of the pope, but I have been privileged to get to know him personally over the years, in part because I helped run a seminar on Catholic social teaching in Cracow, Poland, which is the place where he was archbishop before being made pope.

bserious61 asks: Should Pope John Paul's visit be considered a prophetic event?

father_neuhaus: Yes, I think so. One of the best descriptions of the entire mission of John Paul II is that it is a message of "prophetic humanism." He really believes that in Jesus Christ all people discover who they truly are and are able to encounter one another as children of the one God of Israel.

u_got_faith asks: Where is the Catholic Church going to be in 10 more years, and why don't they believe in preaching from the Bible more?

father_neuhaus: The church, as it is commonly said, thinks in terms of centuries, so 10 years is a very short time. As for the second, every Catholic Mass is drawn from the Bible. And every Catholic sermon is--or at least should be--based on the Bible readings appointed for that day.

ashley_babbie_2000 asks: How old is the pope?

father_neuhaus: He is 79. He will be 80 on May 18th.

honey_crash asks: What are some of the prominent places the pope visited?

father_neuhaus: What he wanted to do was to trace the entire history of salvation--beginning with what we read in the Bible about Ur of the Chaldees, which is in present-day Iraq. Unfortunately, because of difficulties posed by the Iraqi government, he was not able to visit Ur. But he was able to trace the history of salvation from the Mount of Sinai, where God gave the Law to Moses, all the way through to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem.

Pimp_KoRn asks: What kind of music does the pope listen to?

father_neuhaus: I really don't know what he listens to in private. On public occasions, he has attended concerts ranging from Bach to rock.

sanjivendra asks: What was his message to Judaism and Islam?

father_neuhaus: That we worship the same God, who is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus.

moffettjs asks: Father Neuhaus, is the Holy Father aware of his far reaching positive impact, especially with reformists?

father_neuhaus: The Holy Father every day receives reports from all over the world through the regular visits by bishops and through his many informal conversations with a wide variety of people. My impression is that he knows, more than anybody else, all the problems in the church, but that he too believes, as I said earlier, that the church today is in a stronger position than it has been for centuries.

dovetail66 asks: How many languages does he speak?

father_neuhaus: He speaks at least four or five languages fluently--Polish, of course, Italian, English, French, and German. But in his almost 100 pastoral visits around the world, he has almost always tried to address people in their own language.

naropapoet asks: Why would the leaders of the Catholic Church sanction and support the Crusades of the Middle Ages?

father_neuhaus: The Crusades, beginning in the 12th century, and really lasting for two centuries, were an effort of Christian Europe to reconquer the lands that had been conquered by Islam centuries before. Particularly in northern Africa, which was once overwhelmingly Christian, and of course also in Spain. So the Crusades are more accurately described as the Reconquest, which effort--it needs to be pointed out--was finally as futile as it was bloody.

benquo asks: Was there any opposition from Rome when the pope decided to visit the Middle East?

father_neuhaus: I wouldn't say opposition, but there were certainly voices raised in worry that given the frailty of his health and the many agitations in that part of the world, that he might be attempting to do too much.

robinpa80 asks: Can a pope retire?

father_neuhaus: Theoretically, a pope can retire. There is one example from hundreds of years ago when a pope did retire. But it has not happened in the modern period.

rosemary_777 asks: I'm 12 and want to know does the Holy Father have a favorite food?

father_neuhaus: In the times that I have had lunch or dinner with him, I have noticed that he does not eat very much and, quite frankly, seems to be somewhat indifferent to what he is eating.

charfleur asks: The pope's health is so poor--do you think this will be his last trip? father_neuhaus: No, I don't think so. In fact, he is spiritually and mentally totally alert. His physical health has really not declined that much in the last, say, two years.LMs_sandi asks: Can Father Neuhaus reccomend a book on this pope? An authorized biography?

father_neuhaus: The best book is George Weigel's biography, called "Witness to Hope." It is not what is ordinarily called an authorized biography, but he had the unprecedented cooperation of the pope in writing it.

jessica_latina2000 asks: How does the pope feel about the government using nuclear weapons?

father_neuhaus: The pope has been a powerful voice against the resort to war altogether. Certainly, he is a strong critic of the threatened use of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

mac69_14760 asks: At what age did the pope become a priest?

father_neuhaus: I believe he was ordained when he was 25 years old or thereabouts.

SMRitzy asks: This is going to seem really rude, but, what kind of proof is there that there really is a god, and why should I believe in it?

father_neuhaus: Well, that's a real big question, about which the wisest people in the world have been discussing and debating for probably as long as there have been people. I am convinced that it is not possible to give a believable explanation of the world without reference to a creator who brought it into being and sustains it.

casperilly asks: Father, do you believe priests should marry?

father_neuhaus: Mandatory celibacy for priests is not a matter of doctrine, but of Church discipline. So it is hypothetically possible that the discipline could be changed at some point. But for reasons that this pope has also given, I think it almost certain that the grace of celibacy will continue to be part of the priesthood in what is called the Latin Rite, which is to say, the Roman Catholic Church.

vinnymac_uwf asks: Will the pope ever come to Canada?

father_neuhaus: The pope has been to Canada, and as I said earlier, if--as I fervently hope--he continues to be pope for some time, it would not be at all unlikely that a visit to the U.S. would include a pastoral visit to Canada.

charfleur asks: Who's going to play the pope in the movie about him?

father_neuhaus: There are several movies in the works, but I don't know which actors will play the Pope. Albert Finney would be a good choice.

john_e_f24 asks: Will Pope John Paul II do something special for this year's Easter Mass?

father_neuhaus: This is the jubilee year of the new millennium, and every week and almost every day there is something special planned. At the same time, Easter is, of course, the greatest feast of the whole Christian year, and I don't know how you could make it any more special than it is.

LMs_sandi asks: Would the Holy Father ever consider publishing the Third Mystery of Fatima?

father_neuhaus: I really don't know, but I have reason to think that it is possible.

gal_2006 asks: How old were you when you became a priest?

father_neuhaus: Well, I had been a Lutheran pastor for 30 years before I became a Catholic priest. I was ordained a Catholic priest in 1991.

moffettjs asks: What does the Holy Father plan to do next to promote unity. We have bridged the gap between salvation by faith and salvation by faith and works recently. What's next?

father_neuhaus: A few years ago, the Holy Father issued an encyclical, called Ut Unum Sint, which means "That They May All Be One." That, of course, is from John's Gospel, chapter 17, where Our Lord is praying for the unity of his disciples. In that encyclical, the Holy Father lays out a program of issues that need to be addressed if there is to be greater unity between Christians in the East, in the Orthodox Church, and Christians in the West, including Protestant Christians.

guru_shmuru asks: Father, John Paul is lauded for his attempts at opening up a dialogue with the leaders of other religions. Is this, as one of my friends suggested, a statement by the church that seems to say, "It's okay to be Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, because all religions are right?" Is it an embracing of pluralism?

father_neuhaus: Yes and no. That is, the church says that there is truth to be found in all religions and all cultures and wherever there is truth to be found, that truth should be affirmed. At the same time, however, we believe what Jesus said of himself--namely, I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. It therefore follows that all truth, wherever it is found, finds its fullest and most complete expression in Jesus Christ.

LMs_sandi asks: What is the origin of the pope's ring?

father_neuhaus: Every bishop is given an episcopal ring when he is made a bishop, and, of course, as the bishop of Rome, the pope's ring symbolizes his unity with all the other bishops, and their unity with him.

sweety_4_u_1984 asks: What does the pope do in his spare time?

father_neuhaus: I think the pope has very little spare time. Those close to him are always concerned that he works too hard. But he reads a great deal, and he spends a great deal of each day in prayer, especially before the Blessed Sacrament in his private chapel.

sir_hunkalot asks: What are the pope's reasons for going to the Holy Land now?

father_neuhaus: Well, because this is the Jubilee Year, which means a year marking an event of enormous historical importance, in this case the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus, whom we believe is God become a human being. So the Holy Land is precisely that--the holy place where the central events of our salvation took place.

charfleur asks: Why does the pope seem to be so popular with young people? father_neuhaus: That is a remarkable phenomenon, and I think the reason why in the World Youth Days all over the world you see hundreds of thousands--and in some cases, millions--responding to him so powerfully is because he challenges young people to settle for nothing less than spiritual and moral greatness. And they don't hear that message very often in our kind of culture.

beliefnet_ellen: We'll finish off the chat with a look toward the future.

lynn_jane asks: Father, what changes do you think the church will make in the next decade?

father_neuhaus: In the next decade? As I said earlier, the church thinks in terms of centuries, but I would hope that in the near term, we will see many more advances toward visible Christian unity, and that this unity will be a unity in mission to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with all peoples. The pope has said that he believes that the third millennium should be a "springtime of world evangelization." Let us pray that it be so.

beliefnet_ellen: Thank you for chatting with us today, Father Neuhaus.

father_neuhaus: Thank you for having me. God bless.

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