- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2008

NEW YORK — The Big Apple’s farewell Mass for Pope Benedict XVI at Yankee Stadium came with an unexpected blessing: Just as the ceremony began at about 2:30 p.m., the sun came out.

As the 2½-hour ceremony continued, the skies got brighter and brighter over the Bronx stadium. More than 57,000 people had been waiting there since late morning for Benedict’s last event during his six-day visit in the United States before a short departure ceremony with 3,250 guests at John F. Kennedy International Airport last night.

“With encouragement to persevere in the faith of Peter, I greet all of you with great affection,” Benedict told the crowd at the beginning of his homily.

Earlier in the day, Benedict visited the block where the World Trade Center once stood, blessed the site and asked in the chilly morning air that God bring “peace to our violent world.”

The Yankee Stadium Mass commemorated the 200th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s designation as 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, and in his homily, Benedict referred to the Catholic Church’s history in the United States.

“In this land of freedom and opportunity, the church has united a widely diverse flock in the profession of the faith and through her many educational, charitable and social works, has also contributed significantly to the growth of American society as a whole,” he said.

He encouraged his listeners “to examine our consciences, to purify our hearts, to renew our baptismal commitment to reject Satan and all his empty promises … to be a people of joy, heralds of the unfailing hope born of faith in God’s word, and trust in His promises.”

Benedict’s audience interrupted his sermon twice with applause: once when he urged his listeners to protect “the most defenseless of all human beings; the unborn child in the mother’s womb,” and a few seconds later, when he asked young listeners to “open your hearts to the Lord’s call to follow Him in the priesthood and the religious life.”

He got a third round of applause when he repeated his request for priestly vocations in Spanish.

“It was indescribable,” said the Rev. Giacomo Capoverdi, a priest of the Diocese of Providence, R.I. “I am a big Yankees fan, and to see Yankee Stadium transformed into a church was just awesome to me.”

The Rev. Bob Hoatson, of West Orange, N.J., was outside the stadium holding up a sign: “Sexual Abuse of Little Boys and Girls is Soul Murder.”

The founder of Road to Recovery Inc., a ministry to Catholics sexually abused by priests, said he did not have a ticket to enter the stadium but hoped his sign will make people see that “we are still fighting for this issue.”

“Although some people said, ‘Get out of here,’ we responded with, ‘The pope believes us; what about you?’ ” he said.

Things were much more somber earlier in the day, when the Mercedes popemobile was driven partway down a ramp used mostly by construction trucks to a spot by the North Tower’s footprint at the former World Trade Center. The 81-year-old pontiff walked the final steps himself, knelt in silent prayer, then rose to light a memorial candle.

Speaking to a group of September 11 survivors, clergy and public officials, he acknowledged the many religions of the victims at the “scene of incredible violence and pain.”

“God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world,” the pope prayed. “Turn to your way of love those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred.”

Benedict invited 24 people with ties to ground zero to join him: survivors, relatives of victims and four rescue workers. He greeted each member of the group individually as a string quartet played in the background.

Before the pope appeared in Yankee Stadium, a pre-Mass concert had elements of a Las Vegas revue and a Billy Graham crusade. Performances by vocalist Stephanie Mills, guitarist Jose Feliciano and pianist Harry Connick Jr. — the latter singing “How Great Thou Art” — amused listeners at the heavily guarded stadium.

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 large origami-style 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.”

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 Catholics waving gold and white flags. Slowly, he proceeded to a papal throne positioned right over second base.

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.

After the Mass, the pope marched off the stage to “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” to music from the fourth movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. He made his way down a receiving line of guests seated near the stage, shaking hands with throngs of outstretched hands with an occasional wave at the stands above him.

The choir kept on singing as the pope returned to the dugout to switch back to traveling attire. As the fourth movement drew to a climax, Benedict emerged again as the crowd roared. As if timed to coincide, the popemobile wound its way to the exit as the symphony wound to a close.

The stadium will have a memorial of yesterday’s event in Monument Park, a small area behind the fence in left-center field. A 105-pound plaque, measuring 39.5 inches tall and 27 inches tall, was donated by the Knights of Columbus.

Other plaques already in the park memorialize Masses celebrated at the stadium by Pope Paul VI on Oct. 4, 1965, and by John Paul II on Oct. 2, 1979.

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