Words and the way they are spoken have figured heavily into history.

And so the question: Will there be a defining phrase -- an unforgettable string of verbiage, a moment -- during the Pope's trip to America?

Such words (a few simple ones) can often do more to characterize a visit than any event, speech, or image.

And the trip comes at a raucous, reeling time in U.S. history -- a turning point with signs pointing in opposite directions.

Cloning. Abortion. Gay marriage. War.

On his visit to the U.S. in 1993, John Paul II left us with an expression that continues to resonate when -- during his homily at Cherry Creek State Park (near Denver, at World Youth Day), and alluding to genocide, abortion, and euthanasia -- he lamented about the "culture of death."

Even the secular media found those potent words impossible to forget. Culture of death. They still reverberate.

Will similar, echoing phraseology attend the visit to the United States of Benedict XVI?

And if so, when will it come? Will it be when he visits Ground Zero? Will it be at the United Nations -- where he will speak about everything from war and the environment to the killing of the unborn? Will it be in word-hungry D.C.?

Will it come in talks with dignitaries, or during a homily?

A phrase that touches the devout may flow from his meetings with cardinals and bishops but there is the chance of a larger set of words in front of the throngs who will be at one of two sports stadiums participating in the liturgy.

What will catch the attention of the headline-writers, the tabloids? And what gestures? Is there a surprise in store from this Pope who is known to ad lib? And how will the Church handle pro-choice politicians who may line up at papal events?

Words have power, and no more force from anyone than a pontiff.

"Be not afraid" -- which John Paul II spoke upon his very elevation to the Throne of Peter -- also continues to find wide use. It will now be interesting to see if Benedict can find a metieŕ that carries into the books.

For John Kennedy, it was his inaugural exhortation to Americans: "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."

Louder still were the ringing words upon his visit to the Berlin Wall: "Let them come to Berlin."

The shorter, it seems, the more potent.

"Get thee hence, Satan," said Jesus so powerfully.

And who could ever forget His last words: "It is finished."

There is power in brevity.

Will Benedict similarly hit pay dirt with something brief?

Will there be a theme, a slogan, a moment that captures the entire visit in a single indelible phrase?

It is nearly something of mystical strength.

To a large extent, it could define Benedict's papacy.

Not since his elevation has the media paid this much attention.

"He may prove a surprise to many Americans, even if they may not feel the same emotional connection that John Paul II often evoked," commented The New York Times.

"This Pope plays on the field of clear, forcefully expressed thought that often angers but also often disarms even his harshest detractors."

Will it be something to do with Islam -- at Ground Zero? Or the crisis of abuse?

It must be direct. It cannot be a veiled pronouncement, nor dense intellectualism.

Will it be something that has to do with the greatest issue in the world today: the negation of creation (via everything from birth control and genetic manipulation to environmental degradation)?

Ronald Reagan was a master of the phrase. "There you go again" was a retort that won him a crucial debate (against Walter Mondale), and so was his own visit to Berlin, when he cried out, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

And when the shuttle crashed, he commented that the astronauts had "slipped the surly bonds of earth" to "touch the face of God." Who can forget?

In our own faith, shortness has force with one word we are sure to hear from Benedict: "Jesus."

Nothing any speechwriter could pen or theologian could write will ever compete in power with that.

[resources: The Ratzinger Report and God and the World]

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