Pope Benedict XVI makes waves with his first papal visit to US

22 April, 2008: Pope Benedict XVI marked the conclusion of his first papal visit to the United States by celebrating an open-air Mass at the Yankee baseball stadium in New York, which was attended by 55,000 people.

The Mass at the Yankee stadium was the Pope’s last official public appearance of a 6-day visit to the United States, which the Pontiff himself termed as “a pilgrimage of peace and justice.”

A special throne with the papal seal was erected for Pope Benedict XVI above second base of the packed-to-capacity stadium. About 600 priests and deacons occupied rows of seats along the sides of the diamond-shaped field.

According to BBC, there was a “party atmosphere” at the Pope’s final engagement at the Yankee baseball stadium, with both clergy and lay members of the Church taking part in Mexican waves ahead of the arrival the supreme head of the universal Catholic Church.

While the huge crowds present at the Yankee stadium greeted the Pope by waving yellow and white handkerchiefs, the official papal colours, Jazz musician Harry Connick Jr and gospel singer Kim Burrell performed prior to the Mass.

The BBC report said that the demand for free tickets for entry into the stadium far exceed supply.

Earlier, Pope Benedict XVI had visited Ground Zero in New York, the site of the September 11, 2001, attacks, and prayed for the rescuers and victims of the attacks, as well as “those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred.”

A group of 24 people representing families of the victims were present at the ceremony at Ground Zero, where Pope Benedict lit a single candle to commemorate the dead. The Pope also chatted with each of the 24 people.

Pope Benedict’s tour of the United States had attracted intense media attention as well as huge crowds, leading to observers describing the papal visit as “a great success.” The visit also coincided with the third anniversary of his election to the papacy and also his 81st birthday.

Before boarding the chartered Alitalia plane – nicknamed Shepherd One – at New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport for his flight back to Rome, Pope Benedict XVI said: “May God bless America.”

Present at the Pontiff’s farewell were United States Vice-President Dick Cheney, former President Bill Clinton and his wife and Democrat presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.

During his 6-day US visit, in which Pope Benedict XVI was greeted by large crowds at the three Masses he celebrated, in a step that is unprecedented and which surprised many, he repeatedly expressed unreserved regret for the ugly scandal of sexual abuse by the Catholic clergy in America.

Yet another highlight of the Pontiff’s US tour was the personal welcome given by United States President George W Bush when the Pontiff landed at Andrews Air Force, near Washington, DC.

Pope Benedict XVI’s US itinerary also included a speech at the United Nations headquarters as well as personal address at a rally in New York when he told the a gathering of about 30,000 Catholic youths about his growing up under the “monster” of Nazism.

“With a candour that correspondents say has been a hallmark of this visit,” BBC reported, “the Pope spoke publicly for the first time about being forced to join the Hitler Youth and being conscripted into the Nazi army.

Pope Benedict XVI also became the first leader of the Roman Catholic Church to call at a Jewish place of worship in the United State when he paid a visit to a synagogue in New York.





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