During his general audience on April 30, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about his recent trip to the United States and to the United Nations. Inspired by the theme “Christ Our Hope,” the purpose of his visit, the Holy Father said, was to encourage the Catholic community in America to bear witness to the faith and to carry on the Church’s mission.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Even though it has been several days since my return, I would like, nonetheless, to devote today’s catechesis — as is customary — to my apostolic trip to the United Nations and to the United States from April 15-21.
First of all, I would like to reiterate my sincere thanks to the U.S. bishops’ conference and to President Bush for having invited me and for their warm welcome. I would also like to extend my thanks to all those people in Washington and New York who turned out to greet me and show their love for the Pope, as well as those who supported me through their prayers and sacrifices.
As you know, the reason for my visit was the bicentennial celebration of the elevation of Baltimore, the country’s first diocese, to the status of a metropolitan see and the foundation of dioceses in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Louisville. During this celebration, which is customary within the Church, I had the joy of visiting for the first time as the Successor of Peter the beloved people of the United States in order to confirm them in their faith as Catholics, renew and strengthen brotherhood among all Christians, and proclaim to everyone the message of “Christ Our Hope,” which was the theme for my trip.
The Church in Society
During my meeting with President Bush at his residence, I was able to honor this great country, which, from its very beginning, was built upon the foundation of a harmonious confluence of religious, ethical and political principles that remains to this day a compelling example of a healthy secular society where the religious dimension, in the diversity of its expressions, is not only tolerated but valued as the “soul” of the nation and as a fundamental guarantee of the rights and duties of human beings.
In such a situation, the Church is able to freely and devotedly carry out its mission of evangelization and human development and be, at the same time, a “critical conscience” that helps build a society that respects human beings and, at the same time, that inspires a country like the United States, to which all people look as one of the principal players on the international scene, to global solidarity, which is ever more needed and urgent, and to patiently carry on a dialogue in its international relations.
Of course, the role and the mission of the ecclesial community were at the heart of my meeting with the bishops, which took place in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.
Within the context of the liturgy of vespers, we praised the Lord for the path upon which the people of God in the United States have traveled, for the zeal of its bishops, and for the fervor and the generosity of its faithful, which is manifested in their high esteem for the faith and an openness to it and in their numerous charitable and humanitarian initiatives both within and outside the country.
At the same time, I was able to support my brother bishops in their difficult task of sowing the Gospel in a society marked by many contradictions that are a threat to the coherent fidelity of the faithful and of the clergy itself.
I encouraged them to let their voices be heard on current moral and social questions and to educate laypeople so that they be a “leaven” in the civic community, starting with the family, which is its fundamental cell.
In this regard, I exhorted them to proclaim once again the sacrament of marriage as a gift and indissoluble commitment between a man and a woman as well as the natural environment where children are welcomed and receive their education.
The Church and the family, together with the school, especially those inspired by Christian values, should cooperate in order to offer young people a solid moral education. Nevertheless, those who are involved in fields of communications and entertainment also have a great responsibility in this task.
A Time for Healing
By reflecting on the sad situation of the sexual abuse of minors that ordained ministers have committed, I wanted to express to the bishops my closeness to them and encourage them in their commitment to heal these wounds and strengthen their relationships with their priests.
Responding to some questions raised by the bishops, I felt called to emphasize several aspects of importance: the intrinsic relationship between the Gospel and “natural law”; a healthy concept of freedom that is envisioned and fulfilled in love; the ecclesial dimension of the Christian experience; the need to proclaim “salvation” as the fullness of life in new ways, especially to the youth, and to educate them in prayer, which is the seed from which a generous response to the Lord’s call sprouts.
During the wonderful and festive Eucharistic celebration at Nationals Park stadium in Washington, we called on the Holy Spirit to be with the Church in the United States of America so that firmly rooted in the faith that has been handed down by its fathers, profoundly united and renewed, it will face present and future challenges with courage and hope — a hope that “does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).
One of these challenges is certainly that of education, and, for this reason, I had a meeting with the presidents of Catholic universities and colleges at The Catholic University of America, along with diocesan leaders in charge of education as well as with representatives of both professors and students.
The commitment to education is an integral part of the Church’s mission and the Church community in the United States has always been very involved in this area, offering an extensive social and cultural service to the entire country.
It is important that this can continue. At the same time, it is important to care for the quality at these Catholic centers of learning so that formation truly takes place there according to “the extent of the full stature” of Christ (see Ephesians 4:13), by bringing together faith and reason, and truth and liberty.
It is with joy, therefore, that I was able to confirm those who are responsible for learning in their valuable commitment to intellectual charity.
In a country like the United States of America with its vocation to multiculturalism, meetings with representatives of other religions took on a special importance: with Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Jains at the John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington and with a visit to a synagogue in New York.
These moments, especially the last one, were very cordial and confirmed our mutual commitment to dialogue and to the promotion of peace and spiritual and moral values.
In a country such as this, which may be considered as the homeland of religious freedom, I recalled how such religious freedom must always be defended through a joint effort in order to avoid any form of discrimination or prejudice.
I also highlighted the great responsibility religious leaders have, both in teaching respect and nonviolence and in keeping the deepest questions of man’s conscience at the forefront.
The ecumenical celebration at St. Joseph’s Parish was also characterized by great cordiality. Together, we asked the Lord to increase the capacity of Christians to give witness with an ever greater unity to the great and unique hope they have (see 1 Peter 3:15) based on their common faith in Jesus Christ.
The Dignity of Man
Another principal objective of my trip was to visit the headquarters of the United Nations — the fourth visit of a Pope there, after that of Paul VI in 1965 and the two visits of John Paul II in 1979 and 1995.
During the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Lord in his providence gave me the opportunity to confirm within this great and authoritative supranational assembly the value of this charter by recalling its universal basis, that is, the dignity of the human person created by God in his image and likeness to work with him in this world for his great plan for life and for peace.
Respect for human rights, along with peace, is rooted in “justice” — an ethical order that is valid at all times and for all peoples that can be summarized in that famous maxim, “Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you,” which was expressed in a more positive way in Jesus’ words, “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you” (see Matthew 7:12).
This constitutes the basis for the Holy See’s traditional contribution to the United Nations, which I renewed at that time and I renew again today: The Catholic Church has an ongoing commitment to contribute to the strengthening of international relations characterized by the principles of responsibility and solidarity.
Meetings in New York
There are other moments of my stay in New York that remained firmly engraved in my mind. At St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the heart of Manhattan, which is truly a “house of prayer for all nations,” I celebrated holy Mass for priests and consecrated persons who had come from all parts of the country.
I will never forget the warmth with which they congratulated me on the occasion of the third anniversary of my election to the See of Peter. It was a moving moment in which I experienced in a tangible way the support of the Church for my ministry.
I could say the same about my meeting with young people and seminarians, which took place at the diocesan seminary and was preceded by a very significant encounter with handicapped children and young people along with their families.
I held up to youth — who by nature are thirsting for truth and love — some men and women who have given an exemplary witness to the Gospel on American soil, the Gospel of truth that gives us freedom in love, in service, and in a life lived for others.
Seeing the darkness that threatens the lives of young people today, young people can find a light in the saints that dissipates this darkness — the light of Christ, hope for all men!
This hope, which is stronger than sin and death, inspired me during the emotion-filled moments that I spent in silence at Ground Zero, where I lit a candle and prayed for all the victims of that terrible tragedy.
Finally, my visit culminated with the Celebration of the Eucharist in New York’s Yankee Stadium. The memory of that festival of faith and brotherhood, during which we celebrated the bicentennial of the oldest dioceses in North America, remains engraved in my heart.
The original little flock has developed to an enormous extent, enriching itself with the faith and the traditions of successive waves of immigration. To this Church which now faces the challenges of the present time, I had the joy of announcing anew “Christ Our Hope” — yesterday, today and forever.
Dear brothers and sisters, I invite you to join me in giving thanks for the encouraging outcome of this apostolic trip and in asking God, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, that it produce abundant fruit for the Church in America and in every part of the world.