18-April-2008 -- Vatican Information Service |

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VATICAN CITY, 17 APR 2008 (VIS) - At 9.30 a.m. local time today, the Pope arrived by car at the Nationals Park Stadium of Washington D.C., which has capacity for 45,000 spectators and is the most modern baseball stadium in the United States. The Holy Father was welcomed by Archbishop Donald William Wuerl of Washington, by Adrian M. Fenty, mayor of Washington D.C., and by Theodore Lerner, owner of the stadium and its team.

Benedict XVI made a tour of the stadium by popemobile before moving to the sacristy. Mass, dedicated to the faithful of the archdiocese of Washington, began at 10 a.m.

In his homily, the Holy Father recalled how Pope Pius VII had divided the diocese of Baltimore and established the dioceses of Boston, Bardstown (now Louisville), New York and Philadelphia. "Two hundred years later, the Church in America can rightfully praise the accomplishment of past generations in bringing together widely differing immigrant groups within the unity of the Catholic faith and in a common commitment to the spread of the Gospel", he said.

Benedict XVI then went on to express the hope that "this significant anniversary" and his own visit "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.

"The world needs this witness", he added. "Who can deny that the present moment ... is a time of great promise, as we see the human family in many ways drawing closer together and becoming ever more interdependent. Yet at the same time we see clear signs of a disturbing breakdown in the very foundations of society: ... increased violence; a weakening of the moral sense; a coarsening of social relations; and a growing forgetfulness of God".

"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 own fidelity in handing on the treasure of our Catholic faith. ... The challenges confronting us require a comprehensive and sound instruction in the truths of the faith. But they also call for cultivating a mindset, an intellectual 'culture', which is genuinely Catholic, confident in the profound harmony of faith and reason, and prepared to bring the richness of faith's vision to bear on the urgent issues which affect the future of American society".

Recalling how his U.S. visit "is meant to be a witness to 'Christ our Hope'", the Pope expressed the view that "Americans have always been a people of hope" whose ancestors came to the country "with the expectation of finding new freedom and opportunity", and of building "a new nation on new foundations.

"To be sure", he added, "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 ... has also marked, and continues to mark, the life of the Catholic community in this country".

He continued: "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. 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. Nor can I adequately describe the damage that has occurred within the community of the Church. 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. These efforts to protect children must continue".

Pope Benedict called on the faithful to do everything possible "to foster healing and reconciliation, and to assist those who have been hurt", as well as "to love your priests, and to affirm them in the excellent work that they do".

"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" said the Holy Father. "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. How much we need these gifts! And how close at hand they are, particularly in the Sacrament of Penance!

"The liberating power of this Sacrament ... needs to be rediscovered and re- appropriated by every Catholic. To a great extent, the renewal of the Church in America depends on the renewal of the practice of Penance and the growth in holiness which that Sacrament both inspires and accomplishes".

"'In hope we were saved'", exclaimed the Pope, exhorting the faithful "to continue to be a leaven of evangelical hope in American society" and, by the witness of faith, to "point the way towards that vast horizon of hope which God is even now opening up to His Church, and indeed to all humanity: the vision of a world reconciled and renewed in Christ Jesus, our Saviour".

At the end of his homily, the Holy Father addressed some worlds to the Hispanic community. "The Church in the United States", he said, "welcoming so many of her immigrant children to her bosom, has grown thanks also to the witness of faith of the Spanish-speaking faithful. ... Do not let yourselves be defeated by pessimism, inertia or problems. ... The Lord calls you to continue contributing to the future of the Church in this country and to spreading the Gospel".

Mass over, the Pope blessed the first stone of the altar of the John Paul the Great Catholic school of the diocese of Arlington, and the first stone of the new chapel of the St. Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California.

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