Pope Benedict's Reflections of His U.S. Visit
The Pope's address during the General Audience at St. Peter's Square, April 30, 2008
Dear brothers and sisters,
Although several days have elapsed since my return, I wish to dedicate today's catechesis, as is usual, to the apostolic voyage that I made to the United Nations Organization and the United States of America on April 15-21.
First of all, I renew my most heartfelt acknowledgment to the United States Catholic bishops conference and to President Bush for having invited me and for the warm welcome that I was accorded. My 'thank you' extends to all those who, in Washington and New York, came to greet me and to show their love for the Pope, or who accompanied and sustained me with prayer and offering their sacrifices. As you know, the occasion for the visit was the bicentennnial of the elevation to a metropolitan see of the country'[s first diocese, Baltimore, and the foundation of the dioceses of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Louisville.
On such an ecclesial occasion, I had the joy of coming, for the first time as the Successor of Peter, to visit the beloved people of the United States of America, to confirm Catholics in their faith, to renew and increase fraternity with all Christians, and to announce to all the message of 'Christ our Hope', which was the theme of the visit. In the meeting with the President at his residence, I paid tribute to that great nation which, from its beginnings, was founded on the basis of a happy conjunction between religious, eethical and political principles, and which still constitutes a valid example of healthy secularity, where the religious dimension, in the diversity of its expressions, is not only tolerated but valued as the 'spirit' of the nation and the fundamental guarantee of human rights and responsibilities.
In such context, the Church can develop with freedom and commitment its mission of evangelization and human promotion, and even of being a 'critical conscience', contributing to the construction of a society worthy of the human being, and at the same time, stimulating a nation like the United States - which everyone looks to as one of the principal actors on the international scene - towards global solidarity, which is ever more necessry and urgent, and towards the patient exercise of dialog in international relations.
Naturally, the mission and the role of the church community were at the center of my encounter with the bishops at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. In the liturgical context of Vespers, we praised the Lord for the path taken by the People of God in the United States, for the zeal of its pastors, and the fervor and generosity of its faithful, manifested in their high and open regard for the faith, and in innumerable charitable and humanitarian initiatives within the country and abroad. At the same time, I sustained my brother bishops in their not-easy task of sowing the Gospel in a society marked by not a few contradictions which threatens the coherence of Catholics and even the clergy themselves.
I encouraged them to make their voices heard on actual moral and social questions and to form faithful lay persons in such a way that they may be good 'yeast' for the civilian community, starting with the fundamental cell of society which is the family. In this sense, I exhorted them to re-propose the sacrmament of Matrimony as a gift and an indissoluble commitment between a man and a woman, the natural environment for nurturing and educating children. The Church and the family, together with schools - especially those of Christian inspiration - should cooperate to offer young people a solid moral education. But in this task, those who work in communications and entertainment also have a great responsibility.
Thinking of the sorrowful events of sexual abuses committes by ordained ministers against minors, I wished to express to the bishops my closeness, encouraging them in the committment to bind up the wounds and to strengthen their relationship with their priests. Responding to some questions posed by the bishops, I was able to underline some important aspects: the intrinsic relationship between the Gospel and 'natural law'; a sane concept of freedom with includes love and is realized in love; the ecclesial dimension of the Christian experience; the exigency of announcing in a new way, especially to young people, 'salvation' as the fullness of living, and to educate them in prayer, from which generous responses to the call of the Lord may germinate.
In the great festive Eucharistic celebration at the Nationals Park Stadium of Washington, we invoked the Holy Spirit on the entire Church in the United States of America, so that, firmly rooted in the faith transmitted by their fathers, profoundly united and renewed, it may face present and future challenges with courage and hope - that hope which "does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us" (Rm 5,5). One such challenge is certainly that of education, and therefore, at the Catholic University of America, I met the rectors of Catholic universities and colleges, the diocesan officials responsible for teaching, professors and student rerpresenatives. The educational task is an integral part of the mission of the Church, and the ecclesial community in the United States has always been very engaged in it, rendering at the same time a great social and cultural service to the entire nation. It is important that this goes on. It is equally important to look after the quality of Catholic institutions, so that they may truly be able to form students according to 'the full stature' of Christ (cfr Eph 4,13), uniting faith and reason, freedom and truth.
It was with joy that I confirmed the educators in this, their precious task of intellectual charity. In a multicultural country like the United States of America, my meetings with the representatives of other religions were especially important: in Washington at the John Paul II Cultural Center, with Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Jains; in New York, the visit to a synagogue. These were very heartfelt moments, especially the latter, which confirmed a common commitment to dialog and to the promotion of peace and spiritual and moral values. In that nation which may be called the homeland of religious freedom, I wished to underscore that this must always be defended with united efforts to avoid any form of discrimination or prejudice. And I pointed to the great responsibility of religious leaders, both in teaching respect and non-violence as well as in keeping alive the most profound questions of the human mind.
The ecumenical celebration in the parish church of St. Joseph was likewise characterized by great cordiality. Together we prayed to the Lord so that he may increase in Christians the capacity to give reason - especially with increasing unity - for the great hope that is in us (cfr 1 Pt 3,15) through our common faith in Jesus Christ. Another principal objective for my trip was the visit to the central headquarters of the Untied Nations Organization - the fourth by a Pope, after that of Paul VI in 1965 and John Paul II's two visits in 1979 and in 1995.
On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Providence gave me the opportunity to confirm, in the widest and most authoritative [forum for] universal consensus, the value of that declaration, recalling its universal basis, namely, the dignity of the human being, created by God in his image and likeness, in order to cooperate on earth with his great design of life and peace. Like peace, even respect for human rights is rooted in 'justice' - that is to say, an ethical order that is valid for all times and for all peoples, that can be summarized in the famous maxim, "Do not do to others what you do not wish done to you", or expressed positively in the words of Jesus: "Do to others whatever you would have them do to you." (Mt 7,12). On this basis, which constitutes the typical contribution of the Holy See to the United Nations, I renewed - and even today, I renew - the concrete commitment of the Catholic Church to contribute to the strengthening of international relations that are imprinted with the principles of responsibility and solidarity.
Also firmly impressed in my spirit are other moments of my stay in New York. At St. Patrick's Cathedral, in the heart of Manhattan - truly a 'house of prayer for all people' - I celebrated the Holy Mass for priests and consecrated persons who came from every part of the counhtry. I will never forget the warmth with which they wished me well on the third anniversary of my election to Peter's Chair. It was a moving moment, during which I directly experienced - in sensory form - the support of the entire Church for my ministry. I can say the same for my meeting with the young people and seminarians which took place in the diocesan seminary, preceded by a very significant visit among handicapped children and youths, along with their families.
To the young people, by nature thirsting for truth and love, I proposed the example of some men and women who testified in exemplary manner on Amerian soil to the Gospel of truth which gives us freedom to love and to serve in a life spent for others. Facing the shadows which threaten their lives today, the youth may find in the saints the light which disperses these shadows: the light of Christ, hope for every man! This hope, stronger than sin or death, also inspired the emotion-charged moments which I spent in silence at the vortex of Ground Zero, where I lit a candle and prayed for all the victims of that terrible tragedy. Finally, my visit culminated in the Eucharistic celebration at New York's Yankee Stadium. I still carry in my heart that feast of faith and fraternity with which we celebrated the bicentennials of North America's oldest dioceses.
The small flock from those beginnnings has developed enormously, enriching itself in faith and with the traditions of successive immigrant waves. To that Church, which is facing the challenges of today, I had the joy of announcing once more "Christ our Hope" -yesterday, today and always.
Dear brothers and sisters, I ask you to join me in giving thanks for the comforting success of this apostolic voyage and in asking God, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, that it may produce abundant fruits for the Church in America and in all parts of the world. In English, he said: My recent Apostolic Journey to the United Nations and the United States of America was inspired by the theme, "Christ our Hope". I am most grateful to all who helped in any way to make the Journey a success.
My visit was meant to encourage the Catholic community in America, especially our young people, to bear consistent witness to the faith, and to carry on the Church’s mission, especially with regard to education and concern for the poor. American society traditionally values religious freedom and the need for faith to play its part in building a sound civic life. In my meetings with President Bush, and with Christian leaders and representatives of other religions, I reaffirmed the Church’s commitment to cooperation in the service of understanding, peace and spiritual values.
My address to the United Nations stressed the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which grounds respect for human dignity in a universally valid ethical order. In a particular way, my visit to Ground Zero, charged with sober silence and prayer, was a moving testimony to the hope which is stronger than evil and death. I ask all of you to join me in praying that this Visit will bear abundant spiritual fruit for the growth of the faith in America and for the unity and peace of the whole human family.
From Papa Ratzi Forum