Pope Benedict dedicated his reflections today to his recent apostolic journey to the United States. In his comments he praised the U.S. for its multicultural plurality and its foundation on the "happy marriage" of religious principles, ethical and political rights. This kind of interchange, the Pope said, is an example of healthy secularism.
Recalling each stage of his journey, the Holy Father expressed gratitude for being able to announce the gospel of hope, as well as his appreciation for all those who welcomed him and for those who supported him in prayer during the journey.
After noting how the motive for his U.S. visit was the bi-centenary of the elevation of the country's first diocese--Baltimore--to the status of metropolitan archdiocese, and the foundation of the sees of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Louisville, the Holy Father affirmed that his aim had been "to announce to everyone the message that 'Christ is our Hope', the phrase which was the theme of my visit".
During his meeting with President Bush at the White House, Pope Benedict said he had an opportunity to "pay tribute" to a nation where the "the religious dimension in the diversity of its expressions, is not only tolerated but valued as a ‘soul’ of the nation and the guarantee of fundamental rights and duties."
In this context of freedom, he said, "the Church can play with freedom and commitment her role of evangelization and human advancement, and even "critical conscience'," she can contribute to building a society worthy of the human person."
At the same time, the Holy Father said this can "stimulate a country like the United states, a major player on the international scene, towards global solidarity, ever more necessary and urgent, and towards the patient pursuit of dialogue in international relations."
Speaking of his meeting with the Catholic Bishops of the United States at the Shrine of the National Basilica in Washington D.C., Pope Benedict said he said he praised his brother bishops for their zeal, evidenced in the faith of the people and numerous charitable initiatives at home and abroad.
At the same time, he encouraged the bishops in their role as pastors to assume greater leadership in “a society marked by no small number of contradictions, which also threaten the coherence of Catholics and even of the clergy.”
In particular, the Holy Father mentioned the scandal of sexual abuse by ordained members of the clergy, the breakdown of family life, the need to offer sound education on marriage and family life, and to equip young people with a strong moral education to face the many challenges of social life.
"I encouraged them to make their voices heard on current issues and to form the lay faithful so they become good 'leaven' in the civil community on the base of that fundamental cell which is the family," he said.
"In this sense, I exhorted them to re- present the Sacrament of Marriage as a gift and an indissoluble commitment between a man and a woman, the natural environment in which to welcome and educate children,” the Holy Father said.
"The Church and the family, as well as schools", the Pope added, "must co- operate in offering young people a solid moral education. ... Reflecting upon the painful question of sexual abuse of minors by ordained ministers, I told the bishops of my closeness, and encouraged them in the task of binding wounds and strengthening their relationships with their priests".
The Pontiff also recalled the “vast and festive” celebration at Nationals Stadium. “In Washington,” he said, "we evoked the Holy Spirit upon the Church in America” so that she "may face current and future challenges with courage and hope".
One of the central reasons that Holy Father ventured across the Atlantic two weeks ago was the invitation to speak at the United Nations, on the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Remarking on his speech at the U.N., the Pope said that, “Providence gave me the opportunity to confirm… the value of this Charter, recalling the universal foundation, namely the dignity of the human person created by God in his own image and likeness to cooperate in the world with his grand design of life and peace. "
In St. Patrick's Cathedral the Pope had celebrated Mass for priests and consecrated people. "I will never forget", he said, "with how much warmth they congratulated me for the third anniversary of my election to the See of Peter. It was a moving moment, in which I particularly felt the support of all the Church for my ministry. And I could say the same about my meeting with young people and seminarians".
The pope dedicated one last thought to young people, "Looking in the face of darkness today, threatening the lives of young people, young people can find the holy light that scatters the darkness: the light of Christ, the hope for every man! This hope, stronger than sin and death, animated the moment loaded with emotion that I spent in silence in the abyss of Ground Zero, where I lit a candle praying for all victims of this terrible tragedy."
After speaking to the public, the Pope greeted several people individually, including three representatives of the Buddhist faith. The Buddhists are participating in the third Buddhist-Christian Symposium, taking place this week Castel Gandolfo.