By John Thavis
WASHINGTON (CNS) – Celebrating Mass in a Washington baseball stadium, Pope Benedict XVI urged US Catholics to renew their missionary energy at a time when American society is at a moral crossroads.
The Pope warned of "signs of a disturbing breakdown in the very foundations of society" and said people need the church’s message of hope and fidelity to the demands of the Gospel.
He also confronted the question of clerical sexual abuse of minors, acknowledging the damage done to the church and asking all Catholics to help assist those who have been hurt.
The Mass April 17 at a packed Nationals Park was the Pope’s first major encounter with the Catholic faithful on his six-day visit to Washington and New York.
The liturgy, celebrated on an altar platform in deep center field, was a Mass of the Holy Spirit and featured multiethnic choirs singing in four languages.
The prayer of the faithful was read in English, Tagalog, Korean, Vietnamese, Igbo and Spanish. It included petitions for Pope Benedict and all bishops, for peace in the world, for the safety of those who seek to achieve peace, for children everywhere, for those who suffer, for those who are ill, and for all who have died. The assembly responded to each Mass intention with a trilingual response sung in English, Latin and Spanish.
During the offertory procession, four groups of gift-bearers approached the altar with bread and cruets. One group, from Medley’s Neck, Md., included four generations from one family. Students from college campus ministries and area high schools, men and women religious, and four people with disabilities and their companions also carried gifts.
The spirit was evident among the enthusiastic crowd of about 45,000 people, who cheered the 81-year-old Pope as he rode through the stadium in his popemobile.
The pope smiled, waved and looked delighted at the panorama of faces and fluttering yellow flags, as the choirs sang English and German versions of "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name."
Anne Murphy, a member of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Alexandria, Va., remarked on the "spirit of togetherness" the pope’s presence had brought.
"I think it’s a very exciting opportunity for people throughout the country to witness the kind of spiritual power that (Pope) Benedict brings to the world," she said.
"It’s the kind of thing that makes you proud to be a member of the Catholic community and to be here today," she said.
After the pope processed to the altar, he was welcomed by Washington Archbishop Donald W Wuerl, who told him US Catholics looked to him for "renewed inspiration to continue the challenge to make all things new in Christ our hope."
The pope, dressed in red vestments, opened his arms wide in appreciation.
In his homily, the pope said he had come to encourage the church in America to build on its accomplishments and respond to new challenges through an "unceasing missionary outreach."
He invoked a new chapter of the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, saying US Catholics need to give their contemporaries "a convincing account of the hope which inspires them."
"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?" he said.
The Pope said that it was a positive thing that global connections were drawing people together today.
"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," he said.
This crossroads is also reflected inside the church, he said. He cited the vitality of movements and parish life and increased interest in prayer and Catholic education.