Benedict hits a home run

By  Catholic News Service
  • April 17, 2008
The Nationals Stadium is one of those brand new baseball facilities designed to bring back the excitement and intimacy of those old-time ball parks. It was only finished March 30 and has held 2 games of the Washington Nationals so far, reportedly to critical acclaim. But a Catholic Mass for 46,000 people is a much different kind of test.

Especially a Catholic Mass with a Pope.

By all accounts, the setting for Pope Benedict's first public Mass was perfect. And the church itself used some creative magic to turn what is, after all, a ball park into an outdoor cathedral. The large altar, designed by two students from the Catholic University of America, was overshadowed by a 22-metre high canopy, which proved useful on this cloudless day.

The crowds began arriving about 5 a.m. and slowly filled the arena with life and sound over the next few hours before the liturgy proper began at 10 a.m. By the time the place was full, there were 45,000 laity, 14 cardinals, 250 bishops, 1,300 priests, 300 volunteers — and, of course, one Pope.

Heavenly music was provided by a 250-voice choir assembled for the Mass, plus a 175-voice children's choir, an 80-voice Gospel choir,and a 65-voice intercultural choir and solos by Denyce Graves and Placido Domingo, who sang Panis Angelicus. Needless to say, they filled the stadium with their voices.

When Pope Benedict arrived in his Popemobile, the crowd cheered warmly, waving their papal flags and shouting their love. He circled around the entire stadium before dismounting to join the procession to the altar.

The tenor of the Mass was both light and serious. There was a sense of great joy, of taking part in an historic occasion of unity for the church. As one American participant told me, yes, they know the church has its challenges, but they can see beyond the problems to join together in love of the Eucharist.

The Pope looked relaxed and happy with the reception. He waved numerous times throughout his entrance and afterwards to great cheers.

In his homily, he refused to scold, warn or cajole. Instead, he tried to inspire renewed faith in the Spirit, bringing home the theme of his six-day visit, "Christ our Hope."

"Dear friends, my visit to the United States is meant to be a witness to 'Christ our Hope.' Americans have always been a people of hope: your ancestors came to this country with the expectation of finding new freedom and opportunity, while the vastness of the unexplored wilderness inspired in them the hope of being able to start completely anew, building a new nation on new foundations. To be sure, this promise was not experienced by all the inhabitants of this land; one thinks of the injustices endured by the native American peoples and by those brought here forcibly from Africa as slaves. Yet hope, hope for the future, is very much a part of the American character. And the Christian virtue of hope — the hope poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, the hope which supernaturally purifies and corrects our aspirations by focusing them on the Lord and his saving plan — that hope has also marked, and continues to mark, the life of the Catholic community in this country."

At the same time, the Pope recognized the open wound of the sexual abuse crisis. "No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse," he said. "Nor can I adequately describe the damage that has occurred within the community of the church."

He encouraged them to work with their priests and bishops to continue the healing process that has already begun and to trust in God. "Through the surpassing power of Christ's grace, entrusted to frail human ministers, the church is constantly reborn and each of us is given the hope of a new beginning. Let us trust in the Spirit's power to inspire conversion, to heal every wound, to overcome every division, and to inspire new life and freedom."

The Mass went on for close to another hour, or about 90 minutes in total. Yet it never lagged and the sense of being part of a great holy event never dissipated. It was truly a moment of grace.



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