Pope Benedict XVI has been visiting the east coast of the United States for the last six days. He arrived last Monday, and he
departs this Sunday evening.
He has met with President Bush, members of the United Nations, sexual abuse victims, Jewish leaders, and 25,000 youth at
Yonkers. He celebrated Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, and will celebrate Mass today at Yankee Stadium. This past Thursday, Pope Benedict celebrated
Mass at the new Nationals Park in DC.
At that Mass in DC, fifteen people from our parish participated, including 8 teenagers. We left the church parking lot at 5am,
traveled in two vans to Rockville, where we caught the Metro. At Chinatown, we had to transfer trains. Packed like sardines in the subway cars, we
became separated. Everybody arrived, safe and sound.
At the stadium, 46,000 people waited for the pope to celebrate the 10am Mass. Priests, 800, of us had to be on the baseball
field by 8:30am. At 9:00am, 250 bishops processed in. The atmosphere was one of reverent prayer. Four choirs took turns singing in the background: the
choirs sang in English, Latin, Spanish, and Igbo, which is the language of Nigerian African-Americans. At 9:30am, when the pope arrived in his
popemobile, the crowd burst out into cheers, applause, and shouts of "Viva il papa." The pope circled the entire stadium, and as he approached each
section of the section, the people stood on their feet like a human wave, and erupted with applause and cheers. People ran to the aisles to get pictures
on their cameras. Lots of people ran up to the Secret Service protecting the pope. The experience was very exciting, happy, joyful. It seemed like the
crowd was greeting a rock star.
Mass proved to be very powerful. Imagine the pope saying to the crowd, "The Lord be with you," and 46,000 people responding,
"And also with you." Imagine 46,000 people singing. The experience was prayerful and powerful.
The readings, Prayer of the Faithful, and music were done in eight languages: English, Spanish and Latin predominated; but also
German, Filipino, Korean, Vietnamese, and Igbo. The multilingual and multicultural aspects of the Mass gave me a great sense of the universality of the
Church. We are a worldwide Church, a global Church. The Catholic Church is big and broad.
Because the prayers of the Mass were spoken or sung oftentimes in Latin, I appreciated more that the Church is 2,000 years old.
We pray the same prayers which Jesus taught us. We use the same Eucharistic Prayers which the early Fathers of the Church gave us. Our length in history
is astounding. As one renowned Church historian writes, "No institution in the last two thousand years, has done as much good for humanity as has the
At Communion time, 300 Eucharistic ministers distributed the sacrament to the 46,000 people in less than twenty minutes. During
that time, the huge congregation remained reverent and prayerful. The choirs took turns singing. Fifty people had been selected as representatives of
the throng: young families with toddlers, families with teenagers, elderly and young religious sisters in full religious garb, two young US soldiers
walked up: one Caucasian in uniform was blind and used a tapping stick to guide himself, and one Hispanic US soldier walked with a difficult limp. The
communicants in the pope's line represented all continents: African, Asian, European, and Latin American.
The pope's message was in effect, "Do not let your hearts be troubled." Hope was his theme. The pope said, we were at a moral
crossroads: "We see 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 God."
Pope Benedict reminded the crowd of the missionary spirit which brought the faith to America. The Spanish missionaries brought
the faith from Florida, across Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, a hundred years before the English made
settlements. The US territory had its first martyr in 1544, in Kansas! Other Spanish missionaries died at Virginia in 1571, and at Georgia in 1597. The
pope called upon us now to renew that missionary spirit. The pope said he came to the USA to confirm our faith, to encourage the Church in America, to
urge us to build on our accomplishments, and to respond to new challenges. He said, "Be witnesses for Christ and his Church. … Give contemporaries a
convincing account of your hope." He concluded, "We Catholics are to be the leaven of hope in society."
At the end of Mass, I sat down in my chair and reflected. My personal thought was this: "I wish that I could share with my
Protestant friends the pride and joy of being Catholic. I am good friends with various Protestant ministers in town; I have the deepest respect and
admiration for them. I wish they could enjoy the breadth, length, and depth of being Catholic. Breadth: we are a worldwide Church, a big, broad-minded
church. We possess a length of 2,000 years of history: Jesus, the apostles and their disciples; the Church Fathers, an unbroken line of 265 popes whose
role is to serve as the Vicar of Christ on earth. We enjoy a long institutional history and tradition. Depth, we enjoy the sacraments, the communication
of God's divine life which enters into our human life. I wish to pray and work for greater Christian unity, as St. Paul advises us: "There is one Lord,
one faith, one baptism." (Eph. 4.5)
In the vans returning home, the teenagers described their experiences as "awesome, incredible, powerful,"
May I repeat the words of Jesus in this morning's gospel: "Do not let your hearts be troubled." As the pope says, "Be witnesses
of Christian hope." We are in God's hands, and under the leadership of the Vicar of Christ on earth: Pope Benedict XVI.
Read other homilies by Father O'Malley