At Mass at Nationals Park, pope encourages Catholics in U.S. to build upon legacy of faith and hope
Friday, April 18, 2008 2:07 AM
The defining character of the United States is and has long been to be "a people of hope," said Pope Benedict XVI to 46,000 Catholics gathered for the papal Mass at Nationals Park on Thursday.
Greeted warmly by the large crowd at the baseball stadium in Washington, Pope Benedict offered a blessing to those in attendance. The Papal Mass on April 17 was his first public Mass in the United States, celebrated during his first pastoral visit as pope to this country.
CS PHOTO BY RAFAEL CRISOSTOMO
Pilgrims come in droves to attend Papal Mass
Alicia Hughes prayed earnestly to St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes, to help her find a ticket to the Papal Mass before it began at 10 a.m. on April 17.
She held a small sign that read "need tickets," outside the Navy Yard Metro station that is dwarfed by the new Nationals Park stadium, where Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass. Hughes and four other women, who won tickets to the Mass from their parish back home, drove the entire way from El Paso, Texas, in hopes they could participate in the historic event.
As she pleaded with the mobs of people entering the stadium for an extra ticket, her friends prayed to numerous saints asking for their intercession.
"First we prayed to St. Anthony, then we prayed to St. Rita, and then, we said 'no, let's pray to St. Jude,' because he is the patron saint of impossible causes," said Rosa Caballero, a friend of Hughes and a pilgrim.
And apparently St. Jude came through.
Hughes and her friends were moved to tears after a pilgrim decided to give several tickets away to a crowd angling to get into the stadium. "I feel ecstatic," she said.
"St. Jude," Caballero said, emphasizing his role in finding Hughes a ticket.
To this group of El Paso pilgrims, seeing the pope is the closest they can get to Jesus on Earth, Caballero said.
"He is the representative of Jesus, he is Peter with us," she said.
Hughes and her friends trickled into the stadium with the approximately 46,000 other pilgrims, who moved around the stadium going to Confession, searching for seats, or standing in the massive lines flooding out of bathrooms or food vendors.
As the pope arrived to the stadium, a roar erupted from the pilgrims who enthusiastically waved Vatican flags and cheered for their pontiff. He proceeded to drive around the stadium in the popemobile to greet his chanting and cheering flock.
Sister Joanna Okereke, a Nigerian, and a member of the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus in Washington, said the Holy Father's homily filled her with the Holy Spirit.
"I felt like it was Jesus speaking," she said.
His emphasis on the importance of prayer and catechesis reminded her of her childhood, when her mother would tell her to learn the catechism. She added that her "heart was lifted up to heaven," during the Mass.
"There is a fire of love that is flowing from my heart now ... the Holy Spirit talks like that, He has touched me today," she said.
Betty Broadway, a parishioner of St. Francis Xavier in Southeast Washington, said she feels especially blessed that the pope decided to come to Washington.
"It moves me to know he is the earthly father of our religion ... I would have stood outside the gates because this is so spiritual," she said.
As the pope left the stadium, pilgrims gave him a rock-star goodbye, and he affectionately smiled back and waved to the crowd.
"He just gives me goosebumps," said Kathleen Dyka, a parishioner of Our Lady Help of Christians in Waldorf.
The April 17 Papal Mass at Nationals Park included youth from Catholic schools across the Washington area, who came in their school uniforms to see the pope.
About 150 girls from the Academy of the Holy Cross in Kensington attended the Papal Mass. A senior, Bridget Cosgrove said, "I think he's good at talking to kids our age because he was a teacher..."
The senior class along with some of their teachers came from Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School in Washington, and at Georgetown Preparatory School in North Bethesda, about 100 students signed up for a raffle to attend the Papal Mass.
Fifty students from the new Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park also attended the Papal Mass. The high school, co-sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington and the Salesians of Don Bosco, offers educational opportunities for lower income children through a corporate work study program. One Cristo Rey student, Ra'shauna Brown, said, "I don't think I would have had this opportunity if I wasn't attending this school."
Elizabeth Harris, a parishioner at Our Lady Queen of Peace in Southeast Washington, said she had already greeted the pope at the Vatican Embassy on Tuesday night. To be at the Papal Mass, she said, "I'm doubly blessed."
A large group of youth from St. Martin of Tours Parish in Gaithersburg, wearing shirts representing their parish, sat in one section in the Nationals Park stadium. One St. Martin of Tours youth, Adriana Garcia, said hearing the screams about the pope coming, "made my heart jump a lot."
Another St. Martin of Tours youth, Bridget Adams, added, "It's a chance to be in his presence... How can you not want to come? That's the question."
Veronica Dorney, also a member of St. Martin of Tours Parish, said, "I'm super excited and I feel very blest to be here. I'm so happy that he came to spread his message and see the youth."
A sophomore at Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington, Patricia Benedict, said, "It was nice how he [Pope Benedict] brought a lot of them [people] together" by speaking in different languages during the Mass.
About her last name being the same as the pope's, Benedict said, "It's confusing because everyone will say it, and then I'm like, 'me?' And it's not me," she said.
A seventh grader at Connelly School of the Holy Child in Potomac, Catherine MacCormick sang in the children's choir for the pope at the Mass.
"I thought it was really amazing...being able to sing for the pope," she said. She added, "We sang beautiful songs."
"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," he said in his homily.
Before the Mass began, the pope entered the stadium at about 9:30 a.m. in the white popemobile, circling the ball field to the strains of "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name." As Pope Benedict XVI passed the cheering crowds, they waved small white and yellow Vatican flags.
"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," he said.
The Catholic Church in America, and society as a whole, he described as being at a crossroad. "We see clear signs of a disturbing breakdown in the very foundations of society: signs of alienation, anger ... increased violence; a weakening of the moral sense; a coarsening of social relations; and a growing forgetfulness of God."
He called on Catholics in America to evangelize and give witness to the faith, confirmed by his pastoral visit to the United States.
"The successor of Peter in your midst will be an occasion for all Catholics to reaffirm their unity in the apostolic faith, to offer their contemporaries a convincing account of the hope which inspires them and to be renewed in missionary zeal for the extension of God's kingdom," said the pontiff. "The world needs this witness!"
The Holy Father was joined by 14 cardinals, 250 bishops and 1,300 priests in concelebrating the Mass. In his opening remarks, Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl welcomed Pope Benedict XVI to the nation's capital. Wearing bright red vestments, the pontiff outstretched his arms and smiled at the crowds. As the liturgy began, the pope incensed the sun-drenched altar.
In his homily, Pope Benedict XVI pointed to signs of progress in the Catholic Church in the United States, including "the enthusiasm for the faith shown by so many young people, in the number of those who each year embrace the Catholic faith, and in a greater interest in prayer and catechesis."
Addressing the clergy sexual abuse scandal, the pope's voice softened and he spoke somberly of the suffering endured by victims. "I acknowledge the pain which the Church in America has experienced as a result of the sexual abuse of minors," he said. "Great efforts have already been made to deal honestly and fairly with this tragic situation, and to ensure that children - whom our Lord loves so deeply and who are our greatest treasure can grow up in a safe environment."
He encouraged the faithful to support and pray for their priests. "Love your priests, and affirm them in the excellent work that they do. Above all, pray that the Holy Spirit will pour out his gifts upon the Church, the gifts that lead to conversion, forgiveness and growth in holiness."
Through the power of suffering and forgiveness, the Church in America will "embrace ever more fully the way of conversion and fidelity to the demands of the Gospel," the pope said.
He praised the efforts of the bishops, priests and deacons, men and women religious, parents, teachers and catechists in passing on the truths of the Catholic faith.
"The fidelity and courage with which the Church in this country will respond to the challenges raised by an increasingly secular and materialistic culture will depend in large part upon your fidelity in handing on the treasure of our Catholic faith," he said.
Throughout the two-hour liturgy, 570 voices from several choirs filled the cavernous new stadium, in the first non-baseball event since it opened in March.
The Mass was celebrated in several languages spoken in the archdiocese, including a Scripture reading in Spanish and the general intercessions in Korean, Vietnamese and Tagalog.
The offertory procession included several groups who when they brought the gifts up to the Holy Father, he greeted and blessed them. When several persons with disabilities approached the altar, he left his papal chair and went to them, offering them a tender embrace.
The Holy Father left the sanctuary to personally distribute Holy Communion to many individual Mass-attendees. Approximately 5,000 people were seated before the large altar situated in the stadium's outfield. Opera star Placido Domingo sang, "Panis Angelicus" during the Communion meditation. Following his rendition, Domingo knelt before the pope and kissed his ring.
At the conclusion of the Mass, Pope Benedict XVI blessed the cornerstone of the future John Paul the Great High School to be located in the Arlington Diocese, as well as holy articles brought by the faithful.
Pope Benedict XVI processed down the center aisle to loud, roaring cheers erupting from the crowds who didn't seem to want the pontiff to leave their presence. As he left, the faithful on the field gathered along the aisle, many reaching out to touch him as he blessed them. He stopped at one point to offer a blessing on a newborn baby.
Before he departed through the Nationals' dugout, he smiled and waved goodbye, as more crowds rushed toward him to catch a final glimpse.