By BARTHOLOMEW SULLIVAN
Scripps Howard News Service
April 17, 2008
"As the Church in the United States gives thanks for the blessings of the past 200 years, I invite you, your families and every parish and religious community, to trust in the power of grace to create a future of promise for God's people in this country," Benedict said toward the end of his homily at the newly opened Nationals Park.
The enthusiastic crowd of more than 46,000 roared with applause as the Popemobile arrived for the 265th pontiff's first of two stadium masses during his six-day visit and his first as pope. He celebrates mass at Yankee Stadium in New York City on Sunday.
His much-anticipated comment on the clergy abuse scandal, about which he talked with his brother bishops at a closed session Wednesday night, brought light applause from the adoring crowd, and much reaction afterward.
After saying that hope in the future has been "very much a part of the American character," he admitted his sadness at the church's recent scandalous history.
"It is in the context of this hope born of God's love and fidelity that I acknowledge the pain which the church in America has experienced as a result of the sexual abuse of minors," he said. "No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse. It is important that those who have suffered be given loving pastoral attention."
But the first German pope since 1057 also told his listeners that efforts have been made to deal with the tragic situation "honestly and fairly," and he urged them to "love your priests."
The mass was a traditional liturgy of well-known Easter season scriptures from the Bible and prayers and songs in nine languages, including Vietnamese, Tagalog, Korean and Igbo, an African tongue.
A sizable crowd was already on hand at 6:30 a.m. for the 10 p.m. service. Yong Lee, 63, born Catholic in Korea and now living in nearby Fairfax County, Va., said he simply couldn't sleep the night before.
"Today is a dream coming true," he said, munching a Danish and wearing a pinstripe suit.
Also before the mass got under way, seminary student Octavio Cortez, 27, formerly of Guadalajara, Mexico, anticipated Benedict would bring "a message of hope in this world of relativism" and expressed his own hope he'd be stationed in the Middle East after ordination.
Diversity was evident in the faces and in the attire of those present, including some who wore jersey-like "Benedict 16" T-shirts and others in Knights of Columbus regalia of plumed hats.
Before the service, the crowd milled around between poster-pillars of baseball greats Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente. At Change Up Chicken, where $9.50 buys chicken tenders and fries during a game, vendors sold bottled drinks for $2.
The pope's introductory remarks drew a standing ovation and when he sat, the crowd's zeal prompted him to stand and greet them again with open arms.
The altar was in center field, facing a home plate covered with a tarpaulin of the coat of arms of the Archdiocese of Washington. A specially designed silver and gold chalice with the seals of both Benedict and Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl was used at communion, which most present took in 20 minutes with the aid of 300 priests and deacons. Opera superstars Denyce Graves and Placido Domingo sang selections with a 250-voice choir.
The 81-year-old former archbishop of Munich, once considered a stern taskmaster of moral rectitude, sounded calm and pastoral to many in the crowd.
"He seems to be a very gentle guy," said July Allison, 62, of Jesus the Good Shepherd parish in Calvert County, Md. "People were clearly touched, especially when Placido Domingo knelt before him. There were very few dry eyes around us."
For Sister Celeste Strohmeyer of Pittsburgh, the pope was talking, like current presidential candidates, about change. "But it's a change of heart," she said.
Tom Rich, a deacon from the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y., said he was impressed "with the reverence of a crowd that size...Overall, it was a very prayerful experience for me and I guess I wasn't expecting that in a baseball stadium."
Pastor Joesph D'Aurora of St. Patrick's in Lexington, Va., said he felt the pope was speaking from the heart.
"I'm going back to tell my people that we must be people of hope," he said.
Reach him at sullivanb(at)shns.com
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