Pope Benedict XVI came to America to celebrate his birthday and his ascension to the throne of St Peter.
Yet the official version of the visit called for the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the Baltimore Archdiocese’s designation as an archdiocese, and the birth of the Dioceses of Boston, New York, Louisville and Philadelphia. The visit, however, highlights the United States in general, and the American Catholic Church in particular as a model of religious freedom for the rest of the world to emulate. From the south lawn of the White House the Holy Father said: “From the dawn of the Republic, America’s quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator.”
Throughout his visit, the pope defused critics inside and outside the church by expressing his sincere and strongest outrage over the sexual abuse inflicted upon young people by abusive priests. His meeting with victims was an emotional reminder of the damage inflicted upon individuals and the Church itself by the scourge of sexual abuse. The Holy Father revealed a pastor’s heart and genuine compassion as he listened and acknowledged the pain of victims.
His Apostolic Journey to our nation was meant to bring a message of hope and a measure of healing to the Catholic Church in the United States. At the Mass at Yankee Stadium, he reminded American Catholics of the “impressive legacy” left by past generations and urged them to build “on these solid foundations the future of the Church in America, [which] must even now begin to rise.” He used the past as a backdrop for issuing a call to a future missionary task for the Church and a call for renewed commitment by Catholics to proclaim the hope of Christ to our nation.
This humble German priest revealed himself to our nation as a master teacher and theologian, Chief Pastor and Shepherd of his flock in America. His words and actions were done with profound purpose and concern for American Catholics, and truly laid the groundwork for what must become a rebirth of the life of the Church in the United States. For six days, we witnessed Christ in our midst while we prayed and worshiped with the Holy Father. His departure from our midst must not be an end but truly a new beginning for the Church in America. Every bishop, priest, deacon, religious and laity “must even now begin to rise.” As American Catholics, we have been reminded that our work must begin.