A hint about next spring’s U.S. papal trip?

It’s been five weeks now since our friend Rocco Palmo over at “Whispers in the Loggia” reported what he called a “rough sketch” of the schedule for Pope Benedict XVI’s trip next April to the United States. The New York Archdiocese said in July that the pope was coming to speak at the United Nations, but Rocco’s report that the pope would start in Washington and end in Boston was the first time a possible detailed itinerary had been laid out, even though there had been earlier reports, such as this one from our own John Thavis, that the pope “could easily add one or two other eastern U.S. cities, such as Philadelphia or Boston,” to the U.S. visit.

From our own experience, planning a trip like this is a huge undertaking with numerous draft plans going back and forth between the host country and the Vatican, so it’s understandable that a month later we would know little else about where the pope might stop while here.

But there was a little hint last week that the trip may not be the six-day, Tuesday-to-Sunday pilgrimage up and down the East Coast that previously might have been anticipated.

In a regularly scheduled meeting between top officials of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the pope, plans for the trip were discussed but “just in general,” according to Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., conference president. The story by our Cindy Wooden added, “He did say, however, that he expected the trip to be brief, in keeping with Pope Benedict’s practice.”

Certainly no one anticipates this pontiff will match the grueling trips that a younger Pope John Paul II embarked on in the 1980s. After all, if the trip really takes place next April 15-20, as Rocco reported, Pope Benedict will turn 81 during the pilgrimage.

A Tuesday-Sunday U.S. papal trip would be even longer than last spring’s Wednesday-to-Sunday visit to Brazil to open the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean. Rocco’s report that the U.S. trip would end on Sunday, April 20, in Boston also raised eyebrows beyond the symbolism of a visit to the center of the sex abuse scandal — April 20 is also the day before Patriots’ Day, when thousands of runners descend on the city for the running of the famous Boston Marathon.

(I should also note here that even though CNS is a division of the USCCB, at this point we don’t know any more about the planning for this trip than any other news organization. That’s part of being financially self-sustaining — we’re not told what to cover, and our staff is not included in the top-level preparations for an event like this.)

So, only time will tell whether “brief” means that Pope Benedict only visits two or three U.S. cities or whether he’ll make several stops in a pilgrimage reminiscent of Pope John Paul’s first two trips to the U.S. mainland.

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