About that modern music: Would Benedict approve?

Among the locales Pope Benedict’s limousine passed Saturday evening on Manhattan’s Upper East Side was the Park Avenue Armory, a large 1881 building whose Drill Hall, reminiscent of a huge, cavernous European train shed, is slowly being turned into a performing arts space. As it turns out, a concert of sacred music by the great 20th century master Igor Stravinsky was on tap and the performance by the Gotham City Orchestra and the Vox Vocal Ensemble was delayed a few minutes to allow concertgoers outside the chance to watch the pope and his large police escort go by. (The concert organizers also presumably wanted the police sirens and helicopters out of the way before the performance began.) Outside, it was something of a typical New York scene: one older woman shook her head at seeing the surrounding blocked off streets and kvetched about “how much this is all going to cost.” Meanwhile, two hirsute gay men, one in leather pants, greeted each other with a kiss on the lips. In short, this wasn’t exactly Benedict’s crowd.

“You Rock!”

As more than one commentator has pointed out, Pope Benedict – German intellectual, scholar and theologian-may never match his charismatic predecessor’s claim on public affection. However, that may be changing, at least in the city hosting the pope this weekend. The New York Post, that bell-weather of New York tabloid coverage, today features a full, front-page cover photo of a smiling Benedict being warmly greeted by long-time interfaith advocate Rabbi Arthur Schneier at the Park East Synagogue, with the headline “Shalom: Pope’s Passover greeting” emblazoned on the page. Inside, a story on the Manhattan crowds greeting the pope on Friday contain quotes from by-standers saying that Benedict is the “closest thing to God,” and “the most recognizable, and most beautiful person, in the world.” (!) One sign greeting the pope proclaimed: “You Rock!”

Was the pope talking about Darfur?

Pope Benedict did not venture into the minefield of specifics — and more to the point, specific nations-when he spoke Friday at the United Nations about human rights and their violators. None of us can be sure which countries the pope had in mind when he spoke about “the principle of the responsibility to protect” – a topic that has been much discussed in recent years in human rights and humanitarian circles. However, to anyone who has followed, say, the long and often sad story of the international community’s slow, laggardly response to the situation in Darfur, the pope’s remarks bear scrutiny. After stating a clear and defining principle that every state “has the primary duty to protect its own population from grave and sustained violations of human rights, as well as from the consequences of humanitarian crises, whether natural or man-made,” Benedict went on to say that if states “are unable to guarantee such protection, the international community must intervene with the juridical means provided in the United Nations Charter and in other international instruments.” Any action, the pope argued, so long as it “respects the principles the underlie international order, should never be interpreted as an unwarranted imposition or a limitation of sovereignty.”

Of headlines and assistant principals

New York City’s tabloid media, which always love a mega-event, are already enjoying Benedict’s visit; today’s New York Post features a story about a taxi cab with a faulty transmission that caused it to go up in flames Thursday in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, giving “cops a big-time security scare” and a Post caption writer the chance to pen this groan-inducing headline: “Hell On Wheels.” Meanwhile, Benedict is winning accolades for meeting the sexual abuse scandals head-on, though he still has a bit of an image problem when compared with his predecessor. In a column that appeared today in AM New York, Ellis Henican writes: “Clearly, Benedict XVI is not a cuddly pope. He doesn’t have the charisma or the common touch that his beloved predecessor, John Paul II, was so famous for.