Pope urges Americans to find hope in Christ

By  Catholic News Service
  • April 20, 2008

{mosimage}NEW YORK - As his final goodbye to the American people, Pope Benedict XVI prayed at Ground Zero, the location of the worst terrorist attack ever conducted on U.S. soil, and celebrated Holy Eucharist with 57,000 Catholics at Yankee Stadium.

The first event was small and sombre, taking place in the damp morning of April 20 under gray skies. The latter was a joyful if solemn worship celebration, with soaring voices and a magnificently elaborate altar and background on which was emblazoned a giant papal crest. Before Mass the congregation enjoyed music of choirs and singers, including Jose Feliciano, Stephanie Mills and Harry Connick Jr. After Mass, the Pope processed out to “Ode to Joy,” from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

Pope Benedict spent six days (April 15-20) in the United States, meeting with Catholics, politicians, interfaith leaders, ecumenical leaders, Catholic educators, youth, children and just plain Catholics in the first visit of his pontificate to North America.

Each stop along the way, he encouraged his audience to stay true to Jesus and the Catholic Church, to hold fast against the secularizing forces of modern society, to pray and place their hope in Christ.

“Let us turn to Jesus,” Pope Benedict said in his homily at Yankee Stadium. “He alone is the way that leads to eternal happiness, the truth who satisfies the deepest longings of every heart, and the life who brings ever new joy and hope, to us and to our world.”

He had lots of praise for the Catholic Church in the United States, observing that it had over several centuries, built up an impressive array of hospitals, schools, social services and churches.

“In this land of religious liberty, Catholics found freedom not only to practise their faith, but also to participate fully in civic life, bringing their deepest moral convictions to the public square and co-operating with their neighbours in shaping a vibrant, democratic society,” he said.

Pope Benedict also urged his audience to embrace true freedom by accepting the guidance of the Holy Spirit in their lives and rejecting the superficial liberty of the secular world. He urged them to continue to work to help build the common good through their contributions to the community and public life.

“It also means rejecting a false dichotomy between faith and political life, since, as the Second Vatican Council put it, 'there is no human activity — even in secular affairs — which can be withdrawn from God's dominion' (Lumen Gentium, 36),” he said.

At Ground Zero, the bedrock at the bottom of what was once the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, which was destroyed by a terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, he knelt down to pray before a small reflecting pool, a square metre of gravel and a Paschal candle. He offered a prayer for all those who died when two planes, taken over by Islamic jihadists, crashed into the skyscrapers, causing them to collapse into rubble. That day, 2,896 people died.

He also prayed for their families, for firefighters, police and emergency service workers, for Port Authority personnel and all those affected by the tragedy.

He was then introduced by New York Cardinal Edward Egan to 24 New Yorkers who were affected by the attacks. Four had been first responders, four were injured in the disaster, and 16 had lost family members. He listened to each of them individually and gave them words of consolation and his blessing.

The day before, April 19, he basked in the wild cheers of more than 30,000 youth and seminarians on the grounds of St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers. He met earlier with disabled children and their parents. And he celebrated a morning Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral with about 3,000 religious men and women, priests, bishops and cardinals.

The American people appeared to have warmed up to Pope Benedict, crowding sidewalks to catch a glimpse of him in his popemobile and scrabbling for the few tickets available for the public event.

The New York Times reported April 20 that some 200,000 requests had been received by the archdiocese of New York for the Yankee Stadium tickets.

“The demand has just been astronomical,” said Joseph Zwilling, the archdiocese’s spokesman, told the Times. “The other day, we put 5,000 tickets online for people to stand on Fifth Avenue near St. Patrick’s and see the popemobile go by, and they were gone in a couple of hours.”

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, archbishop of Quebec and primate of the Catholic Church in Canada, was the only Canadian prelate to attend the events in New York. He was at the Pope's speech to the United Nations, the St. Patrick's Cathedral Mass, the youth rally and Yankee Stadium.

The cardinal also had a chance to join a private luncheon for the Pope, held at the residence of Cardinal Edward Egan, archbishop of New York.

“I was impressed myself by the enthusiasm of the seminarians and young people,” out at St. Joseph's, he said. The Pope, “took time to let the young people express what was in their hearts.”

Overall, Cardinal Ouellet was pleasantly impressed by the friendliness and faith of the American people. In particular, he noticed that they love the papacy.

“They have a great faith in the Pope — be it John Paul or Benedict — they have great faith in the Pope.”

He was also encouraged by the excitement in the streets. He was staying at a hotel right across the street from St. Patrick's Cathedral and ran into people who were in town to see Benedict.

“I admire these people,” he told me. “They were young and old people, who have been travelling far, just to come to see the Pope on the street for a moment.”

Cardinal Ouellet hoped Canadians would take a lesson from the American response to the Pope. He urged Canadians to have confidence in their faith and pride in their church.   

On Sunday evening the Pope left for Rome from John F. Kennedy Airport on board his Alitalia plane, “Shepherd One.”

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