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Pope Benedict Says Church, American Society at a ‘Crossroads’

Pope Benedict XVI held mass before a crowd of some 45,000 worshipers at the Washington Nationals park Thursday, where he addressed the challenges facing American Catholics. A group of analysts and experts examine the pope's message to Americans.

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  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    The Catholic faithful began arriving before dawn and on through the early morning.

  • AMERICAN CATHOLIC:

    It's a fantastic experience, and I'm looking forward to it. And hopefully everything is going to go as planned.

  • AMERICAN CATHOLIC:

    Everybody is exuberant. It's like having one foot into Heaven already.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    They flocked to Nationals Park in southeast Washington, D.C., for Pope Benedict XVI's first public mass in the United States. More than 45,000 laypeople and 1,500 clergy crowded the newest of Major League Baseball's green cathedrals to celebrate mass and listen to the soft-spoken, 81-year-old pontiff relate the gospel and its message.

  • AMBER HARRIS, Volunteer:

    We got here early, some people even earlier than I, before the Metro opened and before the sun was rising, but it's been great. Everybody's so excited to be here to see our holy father and to serve our fellow Catholics.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    The outdoor service on a bright, spring day was one of the highlights of the pope's trip to the nation's capital. Security was tight and thorough, with long lines for screening. Nearby major roadways and bridges were closed and over-flight restrictions imposed.

    Outside and inside the park-made-parish, there were papal souvenirs, mementos of the moment.

    Six-year-old Peter Roach (ph), one of many children in attendance, attracted lots of attention with his home-made papal mitre.

    Nine-year-old Tyler Cleaver.

  • TYLER CLEAVER:

    I've never seen the pope before, and I've wanted to see him for a while.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    A group of deacons from the Archdiocese of Washington was there to act as Eucharistic ministers.

  • CATHOLIC DEACON:

    It's a link for people to come here to see their leader, who's often very distant from across waters, if you will. But it's a good time to see him come to the United States and bring his message of hope.

  • DEACON KEVIN MUKRI:

    We're not here just to see a man; we're here to see the vicar of Christ. We're seeing Peter the Apostle, the successor to Peter, the one who holds the keys to the kingdom, who does God's will both in Heaven and on Earth. And it's a very — it's just a celebration of our Catholic faith.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Deacon Tom Dwyer had one of the 20 tickets reserved for the Archdiocese of Chicago.

  • DEACON TOM DWYER:

    I think that it will cap off his message to the United States and the world with everything that he's coming to talk about, going to Ground Zero, and striving for peace. And I just think it's going to be a beautiful message that will thrive from, even after he leaves.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Hundreds of reporters came to document the event and speak with the faithful and their leaders. Father Alberto Cutie came from Miami for the mass.

  • FATHER ALBERT CUTIE:

    I believe his message is very unique. He's a message of peace, of justice. He brings us a message of really hope in times of difficult economy issues, issues with immigration, issues that affect all Americans.

    And as a Hispanic-American, I feel especially privileged that he would come and recognize the presence of Latinos in this country. I think that's very important.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Hundreds more watched the mass from outside the stadium. They were joined by a small number of protesters.

    Inside, Pope Benedict arrived in his pope-mobile for a brief tour around the park. The pope was assisted in the liturgy by four cardinals, 250 bishops, and more than 1,300 priests.

    An elaborate papal procession moved to an ornate stage erected in centerfield, as choral strains of "Hallelujah" filled the park.

  • SPEAKER:

    Holy Father, welcome to Washington.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    The crowd gave the pope a rousing welcome and ovation, and the appreciation was returned in kind.

  • POPE BENEDICT XVI, Vatican City:

    In the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit…

  • CROWD:

    Amen.

  • POPE BENEDICT XVI:

    … peace be with you.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    There were readings in several languages. Then, Benedict XVI gave his homily.

  • POPE BENEDICT XVI:

    "Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, peace be with you." With these, the first words of the risen lord to his disciples, I greet all of you in the joy of this Easter season. Before all else, I thank God for the blessing of being in your midst.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    The pope spoke of the challenges facing American Catholics.

  • POPE BENEDICT XVI:

    Who can deny that the present moment is a crossroads, not only for the church in America, but also for society as a whole? It 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: signs of alienation, anger and polarization on the part of many of our contemporaries; increased violence; a weakening of the moral sense; a coarsening of social relations; and a growing forgetfulness of Christ and God.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    The pope also acknowledges failures of the church in America.

  • POPE BENEDICT XVI:

    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.

    Yesterday I spoke with your bishops about this. Today, I encourage each of you to do what you can to foster healing and reconciliation and to assist those who have been hurt.

    Also, I ask you to love your priests and to affirm them in the excellent work that they do.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Then came the offering of gifts: 300 deacons and priests fanned out to distribute communion to thousands.

    The tenor Placido Domingo, who is the director of the Washington Opera, followed the breaking of bread with the hymn "Panis Angelicus" — "The Bread of Angels" — part of a hymn written by St. Thomas Aquinas.

    And at the end, a final benediction from the pope.

  • POPE BENEDICT XVI:

    May almighty God bless you, the father and the son and the Holy Spirit.

  • SPEAKER:

    The mass is ended. Go in peace.

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