Before a crowd of 50,000 people from around the United States, Pope Benedict XVI described the Church in America and society as a whole as being at a crossroads. American Catholics must use this moment to seek conversion, the power of the Holy Spirit and as a chance to bring the witness of Christ to a society in crisis, he said.
The Pope began his homily by recalling the anniversaries of several American dioceses and the witness of the Catholics of the past who built up the Church in these areas.
Given this past, “the Church in the United States is now called to look to the future, firmly grounded in the faith passed on by previous generations, and ready to meet new challenges - challenges no less demanding than those faced by your forebears - with the hope born of God's love, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”.
He continued by explaining his purpose in his trip. “I have come to repeat the Apostle's urgent call to conversion and the forgiveness of sins, and to implore from the Lord a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church in this country.”
Once forgiveness and conversion occur, the Holy Father prayed that Catholics in America will use this momentus occasion “to reaffirm their unity in the apostolic faith, to offer their contemporaries a convincing account of the hope which inspires them (cf. 1 Pet 3:15), and to be renewed in missionary zeal for the extension of God's Kingdom.”
“The world needs this witness! Pope Benedict XVI exclaimed.”
“Who can deny that the present moment is a crossroads, not only for the Church in America but also for society as a whole?” he said.
Those who have “taken up the challenge of the Second Vatican Council, so often reiterated by Pope John Paul II, and committed their lives to the new evangelization” also received the encouragement of the Pope.
While highlighting the progress that has been already made in teaching the faith in the US, Pope Benedict called for the cultivation of “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.”
The Pope then turned to how “Americans have always been a people of hope”. He explained that, “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 (cf. Mk 10:14), and who are our greatest treasure - can grow up in a safe environment. These efforts to protect children must continue. 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.”
One facet of the sex abuse scandal that has been largely ignored by the press—the effect of the scandal on innocent priests—also received the Pope’s special attention. “Also, I ask you to love your priests, and to affirm them in the excellent work that they do,” the Holy Father said.
In closing, the Pope returned to his call to American Catholics for a renewal of the Church in America, saying that it “depends on the renewal of the practice of Penance and the growth in holiness which that sacrament both inspires and accomplishes.”
Being a people of hope, the Pope called on Americans to “continue to be a leaven of evangelical hope in American society, striving to bring the light and truth of the Gospel to the task of building an ever more just and free world for generations yet to come.”
To read Pope Benedict's full homily click here.