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We have spent much time thinking of what the Holy Father gave us during his apostolic visit, but what about what we have given him. Yes, he has recieved a Seder plate, a skateboard, and a whole series of material gifts, but apparently we have given him something greater: faith.

Think you read something wrong? You didn’t. On April 19th, Pope Benedict recorded an ad which is being aired on The Catholic Channel, a radio station operated by the Archdiocese of New York and broadcasted on Sirius Satellite Radio. The ad can be heard here. Click on “His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI speaks to American Catholics on The Catholic Channel”.

What you hear in the finished ad was not the only version which was recorded. Vatican Radio reported on April 20th that the Holy Father deviated from the prepared script during a voice test and said, “I came to the United States to confirm my brothers and sisters in the faith, but I have to say that American Catholics are confirming me in my faith”. Listen to the report here (27:16 on the audio feed).

Wow! What a thought! It is not one that surprises me, though. Pope Benedict’s joy and vibrance was more obvious during this trip than at any other time. Now we know why. Not only was the Supreme Pastor feeding his sheep, but the sheep were also feeding the Pastor. Isn’t that how it should be all the time.

Love your priests, care for your priests, feed your priests! Simple gestures, and sincere expressions of faith, and genuine love can go a long way in confirming our clergy in faith.

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Although there are some who will not be happy until the Church is pounded into obliteration, that cannot prevent us from seeing the big picture.

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI held an unscheduled meeting with victims of priestly sexual abuse, shortly after pledging the church’s continued efforts to help heal the wounds caused by such acts.

The Vatican said the pope met privately in a chapel at the apostolic nunciature with “a small group of persons who were sexually abused by members of the clergy.” The group was accompanied by Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, which was the epicenter of the abuse scandal.

“They prayed with the Holy Father, who afterward listened to their personal accounts and offered them words of encouragement and hope,” a Vatican statement said.

“His Holiness assured them of his prayers for their intentions, for their families and for all victims of sexual abuse,” it said.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican press spokesman, told journalists the meeting involved five or six victims, men and women from the Archdiocese of Boston, and lasted about 25 minutes. During the encounter, each of the victims had a chance to speak personally to the pope, who spoke some “very affectionate words,” he said.

Father Lombardi said it was a very emotional meeting; some were in tears.

At the end of the meeting, Cardinal O’Malley gave the pope a book listing the first names of the approximately 1,000 victims of sexual abuse in the archdiocese within the last several decades, Father Lombardi said, so the pope could remember them in his prayers.

The pope has spoken three times about clerical sexual abuse since he left Rome April 15 for his six-day visit to the United States, expressing the sense of shame he and other church leaders feel about what he called a “tragic situation.”

On each occasion, he made a point to encourage church leaders and all Catholics to help those harmed by the abuse.

Some groups criticized the pope for not visiting Boston on this trip and for not scheduling an encounter with victims. Vatican officials had not ruled out such a meeting, but indicated that if it occurred it would be very private.

Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests, praised the victims for having “the courage to come forward and speak up” but said she did not think the meeting “will change anything.”

“Kids need actions,” such as punishment for those “supervisors and bishops who have enabled and covered up for predators,” she told Catholic News Service.

Another positive step that Pope Benedict could take “with one stroke of the pen,” Blaine said, would be to mandate that any priest who flees a country where he had been accused of sexual abuse be immediately returned to that country to face the consequences of his actions.

She also said it was “extremely disappointing” that the victims were accompanied by Cardinal O’Malley, recently named by SNAP as one of the “worst U.S. cardinals” in terms of his response to clergy sex abuse.

“That was probably not the best decision,” Blaine said. “He hasn’t even put into place the basics to help children protect themselves” from predators.

According to SNAP, one in five children in the Archdiocese of Boston has not received the safe environment training mandated by the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” approved by the U.S. bishops at their Dallas meeting in June 2002.

On the plane taking him to the United States April 15, Pope Benedict told reporters: “If I read the histories of these victims, it’s difficult for me to understand how it was possible that priests betrayed in this way their mission to give healing, to give the love of God to these children.”

Addressing the U.S. bishops April 16, he said sexual abuse was one of the “countersigns to the Gospel of life” and lauded their efforts to ensure these acts will not happen again.

At a Mass in Nationals Park April 17, he said that “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.”

The pope lauded the efforts to deal “honestly and fairly with this tragic situation and to ensure that children — whom Our Lord loves so deeply and who are our greatest treasure — can grow up in a safe environment.”

“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,” he said.

During an interview with CNN three of the victims who met with the Holy Father described the meeting as being a healing experience.

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Three victims of the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Roman Catholic Church described an emotional, frank and ultimately hope-filled meeting with Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday.

They were part of a small group of people abused by clergy who were asked to share their stories with the pope in a Washington chapel.

“They prayed with the Holy Father, who afterwards listened to their personal accounts and offered them words of encouragement and hope,” said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a papal spokesman.

The exchanges were frank and unscripted, according to some of the victims.

“I told him that he has a cancer growing in his ministry and needs to do something about it,” Bernie McDaid said in an exclusive interview with CNN. Watch victims tell their stories of abuse »

But McDaid said he came away from the meeting feeling that there was real hope that this time the problem would be addressed, with action to follow.

“I don’t go to Mass, but today I went with my mother, and his sermon there and his apology about the sexual abuse blew me away, and I had tears in my eyes that I wasn’t ready to have. It was an incredible moment for me.”

Another victim said his hope was also restored after meeting Benedict.

“He first apologized,” Olan Horne said. “He seemed to intrinsically understand what we were talking about.” Watch victims talk about their meeting with the pope »

Horne said the victims were allowed the time necessary to say what needed to be said, which impressed him.

“I’m from Missouri, ‘show me,’ and today I saw,” Horne said.

Faith Johnston said she was praying for the strength to say the right thing to the pope, but when the time came, emotions took over.

“I didn’t end up saying anything. I got up to him, and I burst into tears. But I don’t think any words I could have said; I think my tears alone spoke so much.”

As you can see, SNAP still isn’t happy. Nothing will ever make them happy; however, I loved when McDaid said in the interview that it was like talking with a grandfather.

Healing will never happen unless those who hurt apologize and those who were hurt allow themselves to heal. Hopefully, the victims who were hurt to viciously will be able to accept the Holy Father’s heartfelt apology.

Now that I have had some time to organize my thoughts I will write this post which was hinted at previously.

At this time two years ago I was writing a paper for a liturgy class on multicultural influences in the Liturgy. The Mass Papal Mass at Nationals Park proved the point that I made in my paper. Incorporating multicultural aspects into the Liturgy is fine and can even be applauded when done with moderation.

Scripture tells is “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendant, heirs according to the promise” (Gal 3:27-29). To parapharase in modern language: When we are at Mass we are neither Chinese, nor Mexican, nor Italian, nor Native American; for we are all one in the Christ Jesus. We are Catholics! That is one of the beauties of the Vatican being a sovereign nation. It is not subject or part of any nation.

As I watched the Mass I was struck by the classical beauty of the Mass of Creation. Ok, so that is an overstatement, but I think it makes my point. After listening to virtually every ethnic instrument known to man, I started to wonder where I was or what I was watching.

It was as though they were so concerned that every culture needed to be included that the Liturgy was forgotten. Catholic culture took a back seat as divisions rather than unity were shown.

When Placido Domingo sang Panis Angelicus, the look of joy and relief on the Holy Father’s face was clearly visible. If the music was painful to listen to on TV, I can’t imagine what it was like in person.

Needless to say, I am much more hopeful for the music at Sunday’s Mass.

From the Standard-Times

As Pope Benedict XVI arrives today in Washington, D.C., on the first leg of a six-day visit, local Catholics will be paying close attention to how the pontiff addresses the clergy sex abuse crisis that rocked the American church in 2002.

“Benedict will not be vague or ambiguous in condemning it,” the Rev. Roger J. Landry, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church in New Bedford, said Monday.

The Rev. Landry is coordinating transportation for 100 parishioners from across the Fall River diocese to attend the April 20 papal Mass at Yankee Stadium.

The local pilgrims will find security at Yankee Stadium to be among the most stringent ever seen in a U.S. venue. Security has been increased in the wake of the Secret Service receiving “credible” death threats against the pope. Tickets to the papal Mass have bar codes with the parishioners’ identifications.

Pope Benedict’s apostolic visit — its theme being “Christ Our Hope” — is the first papal pilgrimage to the United States since the abuse scandals. The pope is expected to address the issue in his remarks to U.S. bishops and in his homilies in Washington and New York.

At the same time, the pope, who marks his 81st birthday on Wednesday, will face challenges within the American church that include: declining Mass attendance; parishes and schools that have closed; declining numbers of priests, nuns and other religious; and especially disagreements among Catholics over church teachings.

Despite the efforts of Boston Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley, the former bishop of the Fall River diocese, Pope Benedict will not be visiting Boston, which was at the epicenter of the clergy sex abuse scandal.

The Rev. Landry said the Vatican did not want the pope’s visit to end on that note.

Voice of the Faithful, a lay group formed in response to the abuse crisis, is seeking to keep the issue front and center, raising money to buy a full-page advertisement in the New York Times and other national newspapers.

“We don’t think (Pope Benedict) understands what’s happening in the U.S. church,” John Moynihan, Voice of the Faithful communications director, told The Standard-Times last month. “We want to call his attention to reality.”

As prefect for the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Pope Benedict, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, had responsibility for reviewing allegations of sexual abuse against priests. Condemning sex abuse, he denounced “filth” in the church, “even among those in the priesthood.”

As pope, he has endorsed efforts to examine abuse allegations and to support victims, the Rev. Landry said.

During his U.S. visit, Pope Benedict will seek to promote healing within the church, as well as to remind the clergy of their vocation to a holy or consecrated life, the Rev. Landry said.

“Benedict has no blinders on,” the Rev. Landry said. “He’s going to be ever firm in calling out the clergy is supposed to be, above all, holy.”

Over the next three days, the pope’s itinerary in Washington will include a private meeting with President Bush, a prayer service with 350 U.S. bishops at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and Mass at Nationals Park.

Fall River Bishop George W. Coleman will participate in the prayer service and will concelebrate the pope’s Mass at Nationals Park.

John Kearns, spokesman for the Fall River diocese, will assist the communications staff of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference.

While in Washington, Pope Benedict will also address leaders from Catholic colleges, and meet with Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and representatives from other religions.

In New York, the pope will address the U.N. General Assembly, visit Ground Zero, celebrate a special Mass for priests and religious at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, visit a synagogue and celebrate the public Mass at Yankee Stadium.

Fall River diocesan priests, the Revs. Kevin Cook and David Pignato, will attend the special Mass for priests at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

The Rev. Landry said Pope Benedict will challenge Catholic Americans to fulfill the hopes enshrined in the nation’s founding documents.

“He wants to make sure the focus is on God,” the Rev. Landry said. “He sees his whole papacy as reminding people that their lives as Christians are supposed to be filled with joy.”

In previous writings and interviews, the pope has articulated a fondness for the United States, admiring the nation for its robust spirituality. Despite the occasional First Amendment tensions over separation of church and state issues, Benedict has said religion is not marginalized in the U.S. the way it is now in Western Europe.

Benedict “is going to try to strengthen what the Vatican sees as America’s strengths,” the Rev. Landry said.

“He’s going to be talking of the history of Catholicism in the United States as this living out of faith, hope and love,” said the Rev. Landry, referencing the three theological virtues that have been the subjects of Pope Benedict’s first two encyclicals.

Benedict’s visit is the ninth papal pilgrimage to the United States, tying Poland with the country most visited by a pope. Popes Paul VI and John Paul II visited the U.S. during their papacies.

While John Paul II wielded immense charisma and an actor’s timing on the world stage, Benedict XVI is known more for a low-key scholarly approach. His writings and speeches, while at times sparking controversy, have generally been commended for their erudition and clarity.

“There’s a reverence with Benedict,” the Rev. Landry said. “Benedict makes people sit down, shut up and listen.”

The Rev. Landry said the depth of the pope’s thinking has made his writings “just as good as any of those of the early fathers of the church.” That would put the pontiff in the company of luminaries such as Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, Leo the Great and St. Jerome.

“Watch for masterpieces,” the Rev. Landry said in referencing Pope Benedict’s upcoming addresses.

A priest acting as a baseball player greets the crowd after he pretended to bat before the mass led by Pope Benedict XVI at the Nationals Park Stadium in Washington April 17, 2008.REUTERS/Max Rossi (UNITED STATES
The Homily of Pope Benedict
Mass at Nationals Park
Washington D.C.
April 17, 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

“Peace be with you!” (Jn 20:19). 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. I am particularly grateful to Archbishop Wuerl for his kind words of welcome.

Our Mass today brings the Church in the United States back to its roots in nearby Maryland, and commemorates the bicentennial of the first chapter of its remarkable growth – the division by my predecessor, Pope Pius VII, of the original Diocese of Baltimore and the establishment of the Dioceses of Boston, Bardstown (now Louisville), New York and Philadelphia. Two hundred years later, the Church in America can rightfully praise the accomplishment of past generations in bringing together widely differing immigrant groups within the unity of the Catholic faith and in a common commitment to the spread of the Gospel. At the same time, conscious of its rich diversity, the Catholic community in this country has come to appreciate ever more fully the importance of each individual and group offering its own particular gifts to the whole. 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 (cf. Rom 5:5).

In the exercise of my ministry as the Successor of Peter, I have come to America to confirm you, my brothers and sisters, in the faith of the Apostles (cf. Lk 22:32). I have come to proclaim anew, as Peter proclaimed on the day of Pentecost, that Jesus Christ is Lord and Messiah, risen from the dead, seated in glory at the right hand of the Father, and established as judge of the living and the dead (cf. Acts 2:14ff.). 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. As we have heard throughout this Easter season, the Church was born of the Spirit’s gift of repentance and faith in the risen Lord. In every age she is impelled by the same Spirit to bring to men and women of every race, language and people (cf. Rev 5:9) the good news of our reconciliation with God in Christ.

The readings of today’s Mass invite us to consider the growth of the Church in America as one chapter in the greater story of the Church’s expansion following the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In those readings we see the inseparable link between the risen Lord, the gift of the Spirit for the forgiveness of sins, and the mystery of the Church. Christ established his Church on the foundation of the Apostles (cf. Rev 21:14) as a visible, structured community which is at the same time a spiritual communion, a mystical body enlivened by the Spirit’s manifold gifts, and the sacrament of salvation for all humanity (cf. Lumen Gentium, 8). In every time and place, the Church is called to grow in unity through constant conversion to Christ, whose saving work is proclaimed by the Successors of the Apostles and celebrated in the sacraments. This unity, in turn, gives rise to an unceasing missionary outreach, as the Spirit spurs believers to proclaim “the great works of God” and to invite all people to enter the community of those saved by the blood of Christ and granted new life in his Spirit.

I pray, then, that this significant anniversary in the life of the Church in the United States, and the presence of the Successor of Peter in your midst, will be an occasion for all Catholics 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! 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 God. The Church, too, sees signs of immense promise in her many strong parishes and vital movements, in the enthusiasm for the faith shown by so many young people, in the number of those who each year embrace the Catholic faith, and in a greater interest in prayer and catechesis. At the same time she senses, often painfully, the presence of division and polarization in her midst, as well as the troubling realization that many of the baptized, rather than acting as a spiritual leaven in the world, are inclined to embrace attitudes contrary to the truth of the Gospel.

“Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth!” (cf. Ps 104:30). The words of today’s Responsorial Psalm are a prayer which rises up from the heart of the Church in every time and place. They remind us that the Holy Spirit has been poured out as the first fruits of a new creation, “new heavens and a new earth” (cf. 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1), in which God’s peace will reign and the human family will be reconciled in justice and love. We have heard Saint Paul tell us that all creation is even now “groaning” in expectation of that true freedom which is God’s gift to his children (Rom 8:21-22), a freedom which enables us to live in conformity to his will. Today let us pray fervently that the Church in America will be renewed in that same Spirit, and sustained in her mission of proclaiming the Gospel to a world that longs for genuine freedom (cf. Jn 8:32), authentic happiness, and the fulfillment of its deepest aspirations!

Here I wish to offer a special word of gratitude and encouragment to all 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. I thank my brother Bishops, priests and deacons, men and women religious, parents, teachers and catechists. The fidelity and courage with which the Church in this country will respond to the challenges raised by an increasingly secular and materialistic culture will depend in large part upon your own fidelity in handing on the treasure of our Catholic faith. Young people need to be helped to discern the path that leads to true freedom: the path of a sincere and generous imitation of Christ, the path of commitment to justice and peace. Much progress has been made in developing solid programs of catechesis, yet so much more remains to be done in forming the hearts and minds of the young in knowledge and love of the Lord. The challenges confronting us require a comprehensive and sound instruction in the truths of the faith. But they also call for cultivating 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.

Dear friends, my visit to the United States is meant to be a witness to “Christ our Hope”. Americans have always been a people of hope: your ancestors came to this country with the expectation of finding new freedom and opportunity, while the vastness of the unexplored wilderness inspired in them the hope of being able to start completely anew, building a new nation on new foundations. To be sure, this promise was not experienced by all the inhabitants of this land; one thinks of the injustices endured by the native American peoples and by those brought here forcibly from Africa as slaves. Yet hope, hope for the future, is very much a part of the American character. And the Christian virtue of hope – the hope poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, the hope which supernaturally purifies and corrects our aspirations by focusing them on the Lord and his saving plan – that hope has also marked, and continues to mark, the life of the Catholic community in this country.

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. Also, I ask you to love your priests, and to affirm them in the excellent work that they do. And above all, pray that the Holy Spirit will pour out his gifts upon the Church, the gifts that lead to conversion, forgiveness and growth in holiness.

Saint Paul speaks, as we heard in the second reading, of a kind of prayer which arises from the depths of our hearts in sighs too deep for words, in “groanings” (Rom 8:26) inspired by the Spirit. This is a prayer which yearns, in the midst of chastisement, for the fulfillment of God’s promises. It is a prayer of unfailing hope, but also one of patient endurance and, often, accompanied by suffering for the truth. Through this prayer, we share in the mystery of Christ’s own weakness and suffering, while trusting firmly in the victory of his Cross. With this prayer, may the Church in America embrace ever more fully the way of conversion and fidelity to the demands of the Gospel. And may all Catholics experience the consolation of hope, and the Spirit’s gifts of joy and strength.

In today’s Gospel, the risen Lord bestows the gift of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and grants them the authority to forgive sins. Through the surpassing power of Christ’s grace, entrusted to frail human ministers, the Church is constantly reborn and each of us is given the hope of a new beginning. Let us trust in the Spirit’s power to inspire conversion, to heal every wound, to overcome every division, and to inspire new life and freedom. How much we need these gifts! And how close at hand they are, particularly in the sacrament of Penance! The liberating power of this sacrament, in which our honest confession of sin is met by God’s merciful word of pardon and peace, needs to be rediscovered and reappropriated by every Catholic. To a great extent, the renewal of the Church in America depends on the renewal of the practice of Penance and the growth in holiness which that sacrament both inspires and accomplishes.

“In hope we were saved!” (Rom 8:24).” As the Church in the United States gives thanks for the blessings of the past two hundred years, I invite you, your families, and every parish and religious community, to trust in the power of grace to create a future of promise for God’s people in this country. I ask you, in the Lord Jesus, to set aside all division and to work with joy to prepare a way for him, in fidelity to his word and in constant conversion to his will. Above all, I urge you 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.

Those who have hope must live different lives! (cf. Spe Salvi, 2). By your prayers, by the witness of your faith, by the fruitfulness of your charity, may you point the way towards that vast horizon of hope which God is even now opening up to his Church, and indeed to all humanity: the vision of a world reconciled and renewed in Christ Jesus, our Savior. To him be all honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.

* * *
Queridos hermanos y hermanas de lengua española:

Deseo saludarles con las mismas palabras que Cristo Resucitado dirigió a los apóstoles: “Paz a ustedes” (Jn 20,19). Que la alegría de saber que el Señor ha triunfado sobre la muerte y el pecado les ayude a ser, allá donde se encuentren, testigos de su amor y sembradores de la esperanza que Él vino a traernos y que jamás defrauda.

No se dejen vencer por el pesimismo, la inercia o los problemas. Antes bien, fieles a los compromisos que adquirieron en su bautismo, profundicen cada día en el conocimiento de Cristo y permitan que su corazón quede conquistado por su amor y por su perdón.

La Iglesia en los Estados Unidos, acogiendo en su seno a tantos de sus hijos emigrantes, ha ido creciendo gracias también a la vitalidad del testimonio de fe de los fieles de lengua española. Por eso, el Señor les llama a seguir contribuyendo al futuro de la Iglesia en este País y a la difusión del Evangelio. Sólo si están unidos a Cristo y entre ustedes, su testimonio evangelizador será creíble y florecerá en copiosos frutos de paz y reconciliación en medio de un mundo muchas veces marcado por divisiones y enfrentamientos.

La Iglesia espera mucho de ustedes. No la defrauden en su donación generosa. “Lo que han recibido gratis, denlo gratis” (Mt 10,8).

I am going through the L’Osservatore Romano photo stream and I have come across from photos of the exchange of state gifts. It seems the President Bush gave the Holy Father a crystal cross and a collection of CD’s. Early reports indicate that the CD’s contained religious and classical music.

Pope Benedict presented President Bush with a painting of St. Peter’s Basilica.

More as I get it.

Here photos from inside the White House:

Pope Benedict XVI arrives to a cake prepared for his birthday as U.S. President George W. Bush claps at the White House in Washington April 16, 2008.

Pope Benedict XVI blows a candle on a cake prepared at the White House to celebrate his birthday, in Washington April 16, 2008.

So, the questions remains: what were the gifts?

Photo Credit: REUTERS/Osservatore Romano/Pool

At 5.45 p.m. local time (11.45 p.m. in Rome), the Holy Father presided at the celebration of Vespers with bishops of the United States at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C.

At the beginning of his homily, the Holy Father highlighted the American people’s “great vitality and creativity” and their generosity towards the poor and needy, which also finds expression in “the many forms of humanitarian assistance provided by American Catholics through Catholic Charities and other agencies”.

“America is also a land of great faith” said the Pope, noting how its people are well-known for “their religious fervour” and “do not hesitate to bring moral arguments rooted in biblical faith into their public discourse”. At the same time, “respect for freedom of religion is deeply ingrained in the American consciousness”.

“People today need to be reminded of the ultimate purpose of their lives”, said Pope Benedict. “Without God … our lives are ultimately empty. … The goal of all our pastoral and catechetical work, the object of our preaching, and the focus of our sacramental ministry should be to help people establish and nurture that living relationship with ‘Christ Jesus, our hope'”.

He went on: “At a time when advances in medical science bring new hope to many, they also give rise to previously unimagined ethical challenges. This makes it more important than ever to offer thorough formation in the Church’s moral teaching to Catholics engaged in healthcare”. In this context he told the bishops that “yours is a respected voice that has much to offer to the discussion of the pressing social and moral questions of the day. … It falls to you to ensure that the moral formation provided at every level of ecclesial life reflects the authentic teaching of the Gospel of life”.

In this regard, the Pope identified a “matter of deep concern to us all” as being “the state of the family within society. … Divorce and infidelity have increased, and many young men and women are choosing to postpone marriage or to forego it altogether”. At the same time there exists “an alarming decrease in the number of Catholic marriages in the United States together with an increase in cohabitation, in which the Christ-like mutual self-giving of spouses, sealed by a public promise to live out the demands of an indissoluble lifelong commitment, is simply absent”.

“It is your task to proclaim boldly the arguments from faith and reason in favour of the institution of marriage, understood as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, open to the transmission of life. This message should resonate with people today, because it is essentially an unconditional and unreserved ‘yes’ to life, a ‘yes’ to love, and a ‘yes’ to the aspirations at the heart of our common humanity, as we strive to fulfil our deep yearning for intimacy with others and with the Lord.

“Among the countersigns to the Gospel of life”, the Pope added, “found in America and elsewhere, is one that causes deep shame: the sexual abuse of minors” by the clergy. “It is your God-given responsibility as pastors to bind up the wounds caused by every breach of trust, to foster healing, to promote reconciliation and to reach out with loving concern to those so seriously wronged”.

“While it must be remembered that the overwhelming majority of clergy and religious in America do outstanding work in bringing the liberating message of the Gospel to the people entrusted to their care, it is vitally important that the vulnerable always be shielded from those who would cause harm”.

Children, said the Holy Father, “have a right to be educated in authentic moral values rooted in the dignity of the human person. … We need to reassess urgently the values underpinning society, so that a sound moral formation can be offered to young people and adults alike. …Indeed, every member of society can contribute to this moral renewal and benefit from it”.

Turning his attention to priests, the Pope highlighted the fact that they too “need your guidance and closeness during this difficult time. … At this stage a vital part of your task is to strengthen relationships with your clergy, especially in those cases where tension has arisen between priests and their bishops in the wake of the crisis. It is important that you continue to show them your concern, to support them, and to lead by example”.

“We need to rediscover the joy of living a Christ-centred life, cultivating the virtues and immersing ourselves in prayer”, the Pope concluded his homily. “Time spent in prayer is never wasted, however urgent the duties that press upon us from every side”.

During the course of his meeting with the U.S. prelates, three bishops posed questions to the Holy Father.

In the first question, the Holy Father was asked to give his assessment of the challenges of secularism and relativism, and his advice on how to confront these challenges more effectively.

“Perhaps”, he replied, “America’s brand of secularism poses a particular problem: it allows for professing belief in God, and respects the public role of religion and the Churches, but at the same time it can subtly reduce religious belief to a lowest common denominator. Faith becomes a passive acceptance that certain things ‘out there’ are true, but without practical relevance for everyday life. The result is a growing separation of faith from life. … This is aggravated by an individualistic and eclectic approach to faith and religion: far from a Catholic approach to ‘thinking with the Church’, each person believes he or she has a right to pick and choose”.

“What is needed, I am convinced, is a greater sense of the intrinsic relationship between the Gospel and the natural law on the one hand, and, on the other, the pursuit of authentic human good, as embodied in civil law and in personal moral decisions. In a society that rightly values personal liberty, … the Gospel has to be preached and taught as an integral way of life, offering an attractive and true answer, intellectually and practically, to real human problems. … I believe that the Church in America, at this point in her history, is faced with the challenge of recapturing the Catholic vision of reality and presenting it, in an engaging and imaginative way, to a society which markets any number of recipes for human fulfilment”.

The second question put to the Pope concerned Catholics’ abandonment of the practice of the faith, sometimes by an explicit decision, but often by distancing themselves quietly and gradually from attendance at Mass and identification with the Church.

“It is becoming more and more difficult, in our Western societies, to speak in a meaningful way of ‘salvation'”, said Benedict XVI. “Yet salvation – deliverance from the reality of evil, and the gift of new life and freedom in Christ – is at the heart of the Gospel. We need to discover, as I have suggested, new and engaging ways of proclaiming this message. … It is in the Church’s liturgy, and above all in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, that these realities are most powerfully expressed and lived in the life of believers; perhaps we still have much to do in realising the Council’s vision of the liturgy as the exercise of the common priesthood and the impetus for a fruitful apostolate in the world”.

Finally, answering a question on the decline in vocations, Pope Benedict recalled how “the ability to cultivate vocations to the priesthood and the religious life is a sure sign of the health of a local Church” and he reaffirmed the importance of prayer. “Nor am I speaking only of prayer for vocations”, he added. “Prayer itself, born in Catholic families, nurtured by programs of Christian formation, strengthened by the grace of the Sacraments, is the first means by which we come to know the Lord’s will for our lives”.

Before concluding the Pope also acknowledged “the immense suffering endured by the people of God in the archdiocese of New Orleans as a result of Hurricane Katrina, as well as their courage in the challenging work of rebuilding”. He also presented Archbishop Alfred Hughes of New Orleans with a chalice, “as a sign of my prayerful solidarity with the faithful of the archdiocese”.

VIS

VIS has the roundup of the White House Meeting

Shortly before 10.30 a.m. local time today, Benedict XVI arrived at the White House, official residence of U.S. President George W. Bush who, together with his wife Laura, was on hand to welcome the Pontiff.

The Pope, who celebrates his 81st birthday today, delivered an address from a podium on the South Lawn of the White House. Among those present, apart from the civil and political authorities, were U.S. cardinals, the Presidium of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the auxiliary bishops of Washington, and the bishop of Arlington within whose diocese is the cemetery in which thousands of U.S. servicemen and various presidents are buried. The ceremony was attended by a total of around 5,000 people.

Having expressed his appreciation for President Bush’s invitation “to visit this great country”, the Holy Father recalled how his journey coincides with the 200th anniversary of the elevation of the country’s first Catholic diocese, Baltimore, to a metropolitan archdiocese. He went on: “I am happy to be here as a guest of all Americans. I come as a friend, a preacher of the Gospel and one with great respect for this vast pluralistic society.

“America’s Catholics”, he added, “have made, and continue to make, an excellent contribution to the life of their country. … I trust that my presence will be a source of renewal and hope for the Church in the United States, and strengthen the resolve of Catholics to contribute ever more responsibly to the life of this nation.

“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”. In the process which forged the soul of the nation, “religious beliefs were a constant inspiration and driving force, as for example in the struggle against slavery and in the civil rights movement. In our time too, particularly in moments of crisis, Americans continue to find their strength in a commitment to this patrimony of shared ideals and aspirations”.

Referring to the many religious traditions present in the United States, Benedict XVI recalled how “not only Catholics, but all believers have found here the freedom to worship God in accordance with the dictates of their conscience, while at the same time being accepted as part of a commonwealth in which each individual and group can make its voice heard”.

He continued: “As the nation faces the increasingly complex political and ethical issues of our time, I am confident that the American people will find in their religious beliefs a precious source of insight and an inspiration to pursue reasoned, responsible and respectful dialogue in the effort to build a more humane and free society.

“Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience – almost every town in this country has its monuments honouring those who sacrificed their lives in defence of freedom, both at home and abroad. The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good and a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate. It also demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one’s deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate”.

“The Church, for her part, wishes to contribute to building a world ever more worthy of the human person”, said the Holy Father, because “she is convinced that faith sheds new light on all things” and gives us “the hope that inspires us to work for an ever more just and fraternal society. Democracy can only flourish”, he added, “when political leaders and those whom they represent are guided by truth and bring the wisdom born of firm moral principle to decisions affecting the life and future of the nation.

“For well over a century, the United States of America has played an important role in the international community”, the Pope concluded, noting how “America has traditionally shown herself generous in meeting immediate human needs, fostering development and offering relief to the victims of natural catastrophes. I am confident that this concern for the greater human family will continue to find expression in support for the patient efforts of international diplomacy to resolve conflicts and promote progress”.

The welcome ceremony over, the Pope held a private meeting with President Bush in the Oval Office. He them travelled back to the apostolic nunciature in Washington where he lunched with U.S. cardinals and the Presidium of the USCCB. Later, also in the apostolic nunciature, he received leaders of five charitable organisations: the Knights of Columbus, the Patrons of the Arts, Centesimus Annus Pro Pontefice, the Papal Foundation and the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land.

and this regarding the meeting between Pope Benedict and President Bush

At the end of the private meeting between the Holy Father Benedict XVI and U.S. President George W. Bush in the Oval Office of the White House, the Holy See and the Office of the President of the United States of America released a joint declaration, the text of which is given below:

“President Bush, on behalf of all Americans, welcomed the Holy Father, wished him a happy birthday, and thanked him for the spiritual and moral guidance, which he offers to the whole human family. The President wished the Pope every success in his apostolic journey and in his address at the United Nations, and expressed appreciation for the Pope’s upcoming visit to ‘Ground Zero’ in New York.

“During their meeting, the Holy Father and the President discussed a number of topics of common interest to the Holy See and the United States of America, including moral and religious considerations to which both parties are committed: the respect of the dignity of the human person; the defence and promotion of life, matrimony and the family; the education of future generations; human rights and religious freedom; sustainable development and the struggle against poverty and pandemics, especially in Africa. In regard to the latter, the Holy Father welcomed the United States’ substantial financial contributions in this area. The two reaffirmed their total rejection of terrorism as well as the manipulation of religion to justify immoral and violent acts against innocents. They further touched on the need to confront terrorism with appropriate means that respect the human person and his or her rights.

“The Holy Father and the President devoted considerable time in their discussions to the Middle East, in particular resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict in line with the vision of two States living side-by-side in peace and security, their mutual support for the sovereignty and independence of Lebanon, and their common concern for the situation in Iraq and particularly the precarious state of Christian communities there and elsewhere in the region. The Holy Father and the President expressed hope for an end to violence and for a prompt and comprehensive solution to the crises which afflict the region.

“The Holy Father and the President also considered the situation in Latin America with reference, among other matters, to immigrants, and the need for a co-ordinated policy regarding immigration, especially their humane treatment and the wellbeing of their families”.

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