- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 19, 2008

NEW YORK Pope Benedict XVI today celebrated the third anniversary of his election as pope with a solemn Mass for 3,000 at St. Patrick”s Cathedral in Manhattan, where he made the fifth reference of his trip to the priestly sex-abuse scandal that has engulfed the American church.

During his homily at the morning Mass to bishops, priests and religious orders, the pope encouraged those who had remained faithful to their vows despite the tarnishing of the priesthood’s image as a result of the scandal that has victimized at least 12,000 young people, mostly adolescent and teenage boys.

“I simply wish to assure you, dear priests and religious, of my spiritual closeness as you respond with Christian hope to the continuing challenges that this situation presents,” he said. “I join you in praying that this will be a time of purification for each and every particular church and religious community and a time for healing.

“I also encourage you to cooperate with your bishops who continue to work effectively to resolve this issue,” he said.

In stark contrast to his predecessor John Paul II, who rarely mentioned the scandal, Benedict has raised it repeatedly on this trip in both word and deed: expressing his shame on the flight to the U.S., chiding the American bishops for their mishandling of the crisis, mentioning the indescribable damage the scandal has done during his homily at Nationals Park, meeting with several Boston abuse victims at the Vatican Embassy, and this morning’s homily.

The service was followed by a joyous parade up Fifth Avenue and afternoon speeches to young people on the grounds of a Yonkers seminary.

Dressed in gold, red and white vestments, the pope in his sermon used the cathedral”s Gothic architecture to illustrate several points about his listeners” special callings. Referring to the stained-glass windows, he said priests and religious need to be filled with an interior “mystic light.”

“This is no easy task,” he admitted. “The light of faith can be dimmed by routine and the splendor of the Church obscured by the sins and weaknesses of her members. It can be dimmed, too, by the obstacles encountered in a society which sometimes seems to have forgotten God and to resent even the most elementary demands of Christian morality.”

Still, he called on them to have an “ever deeper faith in God”s infinite power to transform every situation, to create life from death and to light up even the darkest night.”

He also hinted at divisions among his flock in a call for unity among the leaders of American Catholic Church.

“For all of us, I think, one of the great disappointments which followed the Second Vatican Council has been the experience of division between different groups, different generations, different members of the same religious family,” he said. “We can only move forward if we turn our gaze together to Christ.

“In the light of faith, we will then discover the wisdom and strength needed to open ourselves to points of view which may not necessarily conform to our own ideas or assumptions. Then we can value the perspectives of others, be they younger or older than ourselves, and ultimately hear what the Spirit is saying” to us and to the Church.”

Today’s ceremony was the first time a pope has celebrated Mass in St. Patrick”s, a venerable New York institution founded in 1858. Just before the pope marched down the aisle, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who is Jewish, briefly appeared in the pulpit, calling the occasion “a historic day for New York.”

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