- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 20, 2008

NEW YORK — The Big Apple”s farewell Mass with Pope Benedict XVI first appeared like a cross between a Las Vegas revue and a Billy Graham crusade.

Performances by singer Stephanie Mills, guitarist Jose Feliciano and pianist Harry Connick Jr., the latter singing How Great Thou Art, entertained a crowd of 57,000 who had been in their seats since before noon.

The main altar was placed over a large, diamond-shaped stage that was moved into place soon after Thursday”s Yankees-Red Sox game. In the midst of the diamond was a large papal shield with yellow and white ribbons radiating from it. Purple and yellow bunting attached to gold rose medallions.

Near the end of the pre-Mass show, a large group of liturgical dancers appeared on the field waving origami-style large white paper doves on large poles. As they finished, a flock of real doves was released into the sky.

Then at 2:20 p.m., the popemobile arrived to the majestic strains of Charles Gounod”s Hymnus Pontificius and the Dixit from Mozart”s Vesperae Solennes de Confessore.

Minutes later, the sun came out.

The pope ducked into the Yankees dugout to change into his Mass vestments; moments later he emerged in gold and white to the cheers of about 67,000 people packed into the stadium and waving gold and white flags. Slowly, he processed to a papal throne positioned right over second base.

One of the purposes of the Mass was to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Baltimore”s designation of the nation”s first archdiocese as well as the forming of four more dioceses: Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Louisville. Banners displaying the coats of arms of those dioceses lined the stadium.

After his official welcome to the pope, New York Cardinal Edward Egan displayed a lemon-yellow vestment given to his archdiocese by Benedict.

If you come to St. Patrick”s Cathedral next Sunday, I”ll have it on and I”ll look really great, he joked, to laughter from the crowd.

Benedict beamed before the joyous crowd, hours after making a solemn stop to pray at the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

He called the Mass “a summons to move forward with firm resolve to use wisely the blessings of freedom, in order to build a future of hope for coming generations.”

And he repeated a core message of his six-day pilgrimage - that faith must play a role in public life, citing the need to oppose abortion.

The unwavering truth of the Roman Catholic message, he said, guarantees respect for the dignity of all “including the most defenseless of all human beings, the unborn child in the mother’s womb.” The crowd applauded the line.

Worshippers filled the stadium, chanting, clapping and waving white and yellow handkerchiefs in the Vatican’s colors as the white popemobile pulled in.

Outside the stadium, two yellow dump trucks filled with sand blockaded 161st Street before the Mass, an extra level of security along with the heavy police presence. Pilgrims without tickets pushed up against metal police barricades, hoping to get a glimpse of the arriving pope.

“I have never seen Yankee Stadium so beautiful, and I have season’s tickets,” said Philip Giordano, 49, a tax attorney from Greenwich, Conn., who won seats in the loge section behind home plate through a parish lottery. “It sure beats sitting in my local church.”

Added his wife, Suzanne: “I’m hoping to feel something from (Benedict). Everyone who has seen him says they crumple, their knees buckle. You come away just feeling different.”

Benedict seemed to enjoy his long procession to the altar in the popemobile, waving to people in the stands. From the altar, he stood to acknowledge the crowd’s roar when Cardinal Egan welcomed him.

He also praised the U.S. church, which has 65 million members, in his homily, saying that “in this land of freedom and opportunity, the church has united a widely diverse flock” and contributed greatly to American society.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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