17-April-2008 -- ZENIT.org News Agency |

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Crowds Line Up to Catch Glimpse of Pope

By Carrie Gress and Karna Swanson

WASHINGTON, D.C., APRIL 16, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Some 600 people, in addition to the U.S. cardinals and bishops, got to pray with Benedict XVI or hear him give a challenging and pastoral address at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

But nearly 18 times that number counted themselves lucky to get one of the 11,000 tickets giving them a spot on the campus of the Catholic University of America, adjacent to the shrine, where they hoped to get a glimpse of the Pope before or after his discourse.

The Holy Father arrived at the basilica this afternoon after a ride in the popemobile through the streets of Washington, D.C., where a throng of anxious supporters awaited him.

And once at the university, he found another throng -- whose deafening applause greeted him before he entered the basilica and sent him off once he had spoken with his brother bishops.

Miguel Martinez, a researcher from Arlington, Virginia, arrived four hours early to get a prized spot just outside the shrine, giving him the best chances to catch a glimpse of the Pope before or after his address.

Martinez told ZENIT that he made the sacrifice of coming so early "because [the Pope] is the Vicar of Christ," and to "reciprocate the affection he has shown to the entire Church, and now especially for the United States."

"Additionally," he added, "Benedict is a first-rate intellectual and a sophisticated critic of modern society. Pope John Paul II was also a critic, but he wrote as a philosopher, from human experience, whereas Benedict has started from the word of God -- he is a strict theologian."

A pilgrimage

Mark Brzozoski, a librarian in Washington who took the day off to await the Pope's arrival, said he came because none of his other family members were able to make the trip. "There is something significant about making a pilgrimage," he said. "My family can't do it, so I am making the effort on their behalf -- bringing their prayers, as well as those of friends who have asked me to pray for them while in his presence."

The East Coast province of Dominicans, whose priory of 66 friars is across the street from the basilica, was chosen to help with the crowds during the time of anticipation. Recently ordained Father Dominic Legge, a graduate of Yale Law School, assisted in leading the groups as they prayed the rosary and giving Gospel reflections as they waited.

Once the bishops arrived around 4 p.m. -- seven or eight busloads of them -- his brother Dominicans did the same from inside the basilica.

Still, between prayer and preaching, Father Legge had found time to reflect on what the Pope said this morning at the White House.

The priest said he considered the most important point of that address to be Benedict XVI's echo of Pope John Paul II's teaching that "'in a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation,’ and a democracy without values can lose its very soul.'"

“The reason this is so important,” Father Legge explained, “is because if freedom is not directed to the genuine good of the human person and society, then it can become self-destructive.”

Father Legge continued, “The example the Pope used was slavery, where one person was given the freedom to govern the life of another absolutely. That is the destruction of democracy. The implications for abortion in this country are clear, although the Holy Father didn’t say it explicitly, where freedom is so exalted to permit one person to destroy the life another. When this idea of 'freedom' exists, we face a grave threat to democracy and a free society.”

Inside the basilica the atmosphere was more solemn than the lively crowd of families and college students outside. Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, was among the 600 assembled, along with many diocese employees.

The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, dedicated to the patroness of the United States, is the largest Roman Catholic church in North America, and one of the 10 largest churches in the world. It is also the nation's pre-eminent Marian shrine.

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