Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Beijing orchestra to play for pope, easing tension

When I read articles like the one that appears below, I cannot help but think of the Soviet Union in December 1989 and the free celebration of their first Christmas since 1917. I cannot help but recall how strong John Paul II's hand was in this event. And, I cannot help but think of the possibility of China experiencing a similar renaissance in the not too distant future, this time under Benedict's guiding hand.

By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The China Philharmonic Orchestra will perform for Pope Benedict next week in an unprecedented gesture that Vatican sources said could signal a thaw in often icy relations between the Vatican and Beijing.

Vatican Radio said on Tuesday the concert will take place on May 7 in the Vatican's vast audience hall. The orchestra will perform Mozart's "Requiem" along with the Shanghai Opera House Chorus.

The radio called the concert, which will take place during the orchestra's European tour, "important" and added:

"With the performance in the Vatican of a great classic opera of European music and religious inspiration, music is confirming its role as a language and most precious medium for dialogue among peoples and cultures."

Benedict has made improving relations with Beijing a major goal of his pontificate and issued a 55-page open letter in June saying he sought to restore full diplomatic ties with Beijing that were severed two years after the 1949 Communist takeover.

"This could not have happened without the government approving it," said one diplomatic source.

Catholics in China are split between those who belong to a state-backed Church and an underground Church whose members are loyal to the Vatican.

Relations between the Vatican and Beijing have hit low points several times in recent years as the Vatican criticised China for appointing bishops without papal approval. Benedict accused China of "grave violations of religious freedom" in 2006.

Relations warmed significantly last September when the Vatican approved the installation of a new state-approved Catholic bishop of Beijing.

Last month Benedict called for dialogue to end the "suffering" of the people in Tibet and a Chinese crackdown but used extremely diplomatic language.

Beijing wants the Vatican to sever diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which China considers and renegade province.

In 2007, the Vatican did an about face over a meeting between the pope and the Dalai Lama.
A Vatican official told reporters in late October the pope had scheduled a meeting with the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism on Dec. 13.

Beijing responded by saying such a meeting would "hurt the feelings of the Chinese people" and urged the Pontiff to show he "is sincere in improving relations".

Later that month, the Vatican said the pope had no plans to meet the Dalai Lama during his visit to Rome, saying they had met the previous year.

Copyright © 2008 Reuters

Monday, April 28, 2008

Pope Benedict on marriage: Key to ‘World Peace’?

Associated Press - Texarkana Gazette -

MANASSAS, Va.—A new analysis titled “Pope Benedict XVI on Marriage: A Compendium” and published by the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy on the eve of Benedict’s historic U.S. visit, finds that in the first three years of his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI has spoken publicly about marriage on 111 occasions, connecting marriage to such overarching themes as human rights, world peace, and the conversation between faith and reason. “Over and over again he has made it clear that the marriage and family debate is central - not peripheral - to understanding the human person, and defending our human dignity,” says Maggie Gallagher, president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy.

For example, when receiving the credentials of the new U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, Harvard Law Professor Mary Ann Glendon, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his appreciation for America’s recognition of the importance of a dialogue of faith and faiths in the public square and linked this to respect not only for religious freedom but for marriage as the union of husband and wife:

I cannot fail to note with gratitude the importance which the United States has attributed to interreligious and intercultural dialogue as a positive force for peacemaking. . . . The American people’s historic appreciation of the role of religion in shaping public discourse and in shedding light on the inherent moral dimension of social issues-a role at times contested in the name of a straitened understanding of political life and public discourse-is reflected in the efforts of so many of your fellow-citizens and government leaders to ensure legal protection for God’s gift of life from conception to natural death, and the safeguarding of the institution of marriage, acknowledged as a stable union between a man and a woman, and that of the family.

Pope Benedict devoted about half of his message for the January 1 World Day of Peace to the significance of marriage in developing a culture of peace: Consequently, whoever, even unknowingly, circumvents the institution of the family undermines peace in the entire community, national and international, since he weakens what is in effect the primary agency of peace.

This point merits special reflection: everything that serves to weaken the family based on the marriage of a man and a woman, everything that directly or indirectly stands in the way of its openness to the responsible acceptance of a new life, everything that obstructs its right to be primarily responsible for the education of its children, constitutes an objective obstacle on the road to peace.

Marriage essential to world peace? This may strike American ears as an oddity. If so, Benedict has made clear it is not an unintentional one. On September 21, 2007, in an address to participants in a conference of the Executive Committee of Centrist Democratic International, Pope Benedict prefigured the same theme: There are those who maintain that human reason is incapable of grasping the truth, and therefore of pursuing the good that corresponds to personal dignity.

There are some who believe that it is legitimate to destroy human life in its earliest or final stages. Equally troubling is the growing crisis of the family, which is the fundamental nucleus of society based on the indissoluble bond of marriage between a man and a woman. Experience has shown that when the truth about man is subverted or the foundation of the family undermined, peace itself is threatened and the rule of law is compromised, leading inevitably to forms of injustice and violence.

“The short pontificate of Benedict XVI is already a standing rebuke to those voices of our time who seek to make us ashamed or embarrassed of caring about marriage and sexual issues, who try to get us to view the contemporary marriage debate as merely a distraction from more important issues,” notes Gallagher, “Pope Benedict clearly connects life and marriage, the human person in the human family, with the most fundamental international issues of peace and human rights facing our times.”

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Article from Dessert News

Pope Benedict praised as candid, but visit's impact unclear
By Eric Gorski
Associated Press
Published: Tuesday, April 22, 2008

NEW YORK — Pope Benedict XVI's U.S. visit left behind the impression of a compassionate and candid leader who has made a successful transition from professor to pope.

But it's uncertain whether the pontiff's six-day pilgrimage, which ended Sunday, will make a lasting imprint on a country he obviously admires.

"In the short term, the trip was an enormous success, probably beyond anyone's expectations, including those of the pope himself," said Russell Shaw, a Catholic writer and former spokesman for the U.S. bishops' conference. "Whether the trip is going to have a significant outcome regarding the large problems facing American Catholicism, that's anyone guess."

In Washington and New York, Pope Benedict sounded themes about truth trumping moral relativism, rich nations' responsibility to care for poor ones, and Catholics' call to live out their faith in the public square. Above all, the pope urged his audiences to find hope in Jesus Christ.
Pope Benedict did not come to make provocative political statements, opting for measured tones. He spoke of keeping immigrant families together but not specific policy prescriptions. He called for peace but did not publicly address the war in Iraq.

He took an unusual journey into the personal, recalling the struggles of his youth in Nazi Germany living under a "sinister" regime.

He knelt in silence at ground zero, where for several moments the only sounds were the wind and camera shutters.

One day, Pope Benedict gave a philosophical speech to United Nations diplomats in the morning and was the closing act for an American Idol and a rapping friar at a youth rally in the afternoon.
He seemed comfortable both places.

Pope Benedict's journey will be best remembered for his repeated comments about the shame of the church's clergy sexual abuse crisis. He held a dramatic private meeting with five abuse victims from the scandal-scarred Boston Archdiocese.

"For me, the takeaway from this whole week is the fact he met with abuse victims," said Bill McGarvey, editor of BustedHalo.com, a Web-based magazine owned by a Catholic religious order. "He did it. It was a pastoral, private moment. He mentioned the scandal repeatedly. Pope Benedict is aware American Catholics need to talk about it — and heal. That is profound."
John Allen Jr., a senior correspondent with the National Catholic Reporter, an independent weekly, said Pope Benedict came off as candid, kind and comfortable with the adoring crowds.
"Basically, he seems like a nice guy," Allen said, "which already is an advance over what some of his publicity was three years ago when he was elected."

Pope Benedict also lamented divisions within the church. Some American Catholics emphasize the church's conservative moral stances on abortion, embryonic stem cell research and gay marriage; others champion its more liberal stances on poverty and the death penalty.
The pope during his trip largely stayed away from the issue of abortion but spoke Sunday of "the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death."

"I think the lasting impact of the visit will really be to unite Catholics in one family of faith," said the Rev. Drew Christiansen, editor of America, a Jesuit magazine.

Shaw, however, is skeptical that Pope Benedict's first U.S. visit as pope, however well-received, will reverse U.S. Catholicism's troubling trends: declines in Mass attendance, a priest shortage, hemorrhaging membership and struggles to meet the needs of a fast-growing Hispanic population.

"I saw the same phenomenon at the time of John Paul II," Shaw said. "The big crowds, the enthusiasm, the charisma. Looking back 20 or 25 years later — in terms of anything you can quantify in American Catholicism — it's all been downhill."

The pope's farewell to America came at a Mass on Sunday at storied Yankee Stadium.
Before the pontiff arrived to chants and waving flags, a priest waited in line for popcorn.
The Rev. Michael Whyte wore a black cassock and white surplice, or tunic — special vestments to distribute Holy Communion. A parish priest from the Hartford, Conn., archdiocese, Whyte said Pope Benedict's trip has filled Catholics with pride — especially young Catholics.

"I believe his humility and dedication to God and church will be felt for years to come," Whyte said. "He's going to call us back to tradition, what we truly believe."

Standing on an exit ramp after the papal Mass let out, Kathy O'Shea of Fairfield, Conn., seized on one theme of Pope Benedict's U.S. trip: engaging in the public square.

"I really hope this kind of rekindles the fire, especially in this election year," said O'Shea, a literacy volunteer. "Our economy is failing, our morality is failing. I think we just really need to relight that fire. This was absolutely the perfect time for him to come."

A few hours later, Pope Benedict XVI climbed aboard the Italian jetliner known as Shepherd One, leaving it to America's 65 million Catholics to decide what to do now that he's gone.

More German Shepherd than Rottweiler

Three years and a few days ago, I was standing in the middle of St. Peter's Square in Vatican City, eating a cone of hazelnut gelato when smoke began to appear from the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel.

It was a little before 6 p.m., if memory serves, and more than an hour before we were expecting to see the last smoke signal of the day, telling the outside world how the cardinals, meeting in a secret conclave to choose a new pope, were progressing.

On that late Tuesday afternoon, the first puffs of smoke looked gray. A few minutes later, when a steady stream of decidedly white smoke appeared and then the campanone -- the enormous bell on the front of the basilica that is rung when a new pope has been chosen -- began to toll, total mayhem broke out in the square.

Habemus Papam! We have a pope!

Thousands of people ran toward the basilica, straining to see who would appear on the main balcony of St. Peter's. When a cardinal from Chile emerged to announce that we did, in fact, have a new pope, tension in the crowd made it feel as though it was holding its collective breath. And then, Cardinal Josef Ratzinger of Germany walked through the velvet curtains onto the balcony with a new name: Pope Benedict XVI.

I recall vividly the massive cheer from the crowd in the square, followed almost immediately by an audible groan.

"Papa Ratzi," I heard one of the seminarians standing near me say when he recognized the German cardinal. A few hours later, as the world began to learn more about Pope Benedict's personal history, some folks began to call him "Papa Nazi" because of his experiences in the Hitler Youth during World War II.

I don't believe the reason the crowd groaned when they realized Ratzinger had been elected to fill the throne of St. Peter was his personal history.

I think it was his personality, or, frankly, the perceived lack thereof.

During the reign of the beloved, highly personable and thoroughly Polish Pope John Paul II, Ratzinger had been the head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- the Vatican's doctrinal enforcer.

Many people were disappointed that the new pope was the man they knew as the austere, hyper-conservative cardinal nicknamed "God's Rottweiler."

In the three years since Pope Benedict assumed his role as shepherd of the world's more than 1 billion Roman Catholics, he has not ruled with the iron fist that some Catholics anticipated. But he hasn't entirely filled the shoes of Pope John Paul II -- an international superstar with the robust physique, artsy disposition and almost mischievous twinkle in his eye. (Although the fire-engine red loafers Benedict has taken to sporting are a step in the right direction.)

Benedict's first visit to the United States was his big chance to show the struggling church here who he really is, up close and personal. Last week, I said I hoped he would emphasize his love for his American believers still reeling from the clergy sex abuse scandal.

That is exactly what he did.

Benedict showed the warmth and kindness that people who have known him privately for years insist is very much central to who he is. Even before he landed on U.S. soil, the new pope addressed the sex-abuse travesty head on, calling it shameful and incomprehensible.

After he landed, the pope continued to talk about the scandal and met face-to-face with victims of clergy abuse, a Christ-like pastoral move that was felt well beyond the few souls he met with privately
On Sunday, before Benedict led more than 57,000 faithful in a mass at Yankee Stadium, he made a stop at Ground Zero to do something simple and powerful:
He prayed.
He lit a candle.
He held the hands of victims, their family and first responders to the 9/11 attacks.

While the pope prepared to preach in New York Sunday, I was at a church in Grand Rapids, Mich., where I heard a sermon that made me think of him.

The pastor spoke about St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians, where St. Paul talks about Jesus' tenderness and compassion and says we should treat each other likewise.

The Greek words St. Paul uses to describe the kind of encouragement and comfort Jesus offers paints an image, the Michigan paster said, of someone walking alongside of you, slipping an arm around your shoulders and whispering in your ear, "It's gonna be OK. . . . Keep walking."
As he walked among his American flock, that is precisely what Pope Benedict XVI, in his understated way, did. Much more like the German shepherd that he is than any sort of Rottweiler.

Well played, Your Holiness.
Thank you.
And please remember that your soft side is also your best.

Cathleen Falsani is the award-winning religion columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and author of the critically acclaimed book, The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People. She is also author of the memoir Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace, which will be released in August, and of the forthcoming The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers, due in stores April 2009.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Address at JFK Departure Ceremony

Mr. Vice-President,Distinguished Civil Authorities,My Brother Bishops,Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The time has come for me to bid farewell to your country. These days that I have spent in the United States have been blessed with many memorable experiences of American hospitality, and I wish to express my deep appreciation to all of you for your kind welcome. It has been a joy for me to witness the faith and devotion of the Catholic community here. It was heart-warming to spend time with leaders and representatives of other Christian communities and other religions, and I renew my assurances of respect and esteem to all of you.

I am grateful to President Bush for kindly coming to greet me at the start of my visit, and I thank Vice-President Cheney for his presence here as I depart. The civic authorities, workers and volunteers in Washington and New York have given generously of their time and resources in order to ensure the smooth progress of my visit at every stage, and for this I express my profound thanks and appreciation to Mayor Adrian Fenty of Washington and Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York.

Once again I offer prayerful good wishes to the representatives of the see of Baltimore, the first Archdiocese, and those of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Louisville, in this jubilee year. May the Lord continue to bless you in the years ahead. To all my Brother Bishops, to Bishop DiMarzio of this Diocese of Brooklyn, and to the officers and staff of the Episcopal Conference who have contributed in so many ways to the preparation of this visit, I extend my renewed gratitude for their hard work and dedication. With great affection I greet once more the priests and religious, the deacons, the seminarians and young people, and all the faithful in the United States, and I encourage you to continue bearing joyful witness to Christ our Hope, our Risen Lord and Savior, who makes all things new and gives us life in abundance.

One of the high-points of my visit was the opportunity to address the General Assembly of the United Nations, and I thank Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for his kind invitation and welcome. Looking back over the sixty years that have passed since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I give thanks for all that the Organization has been able to achieve in defending and promoting the fundamental rights of every man, woman and child throughout the world, and I encourage people of good will everywhere to continue working tirelessly to promote justice and peaceful co-existence between peoples and nations.

My visit this morning to Ground Zero will remain firmly etched in my memory, as I continue to pray for those who died and for all who suffer in consequence of the tragedy that occurred there in 2001. For all the people of America, and indeed throughout the world, I pray that the future will bring increased fraternity and solidarity, a growth in mutual respect, and a renewed trust and confidence in God, our heavenly Father. With these words, I take my leave, I ask you to remember me in your prayers, and at the same time I assure you of my friendship and affection in the Lord. God bless America.

Homily, Mass at Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York

During the Mass for the Fifth Sunday of Easter celebrated 20 April 2008, the Holy Father gave the following homily.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In the Gospel we have just heard, Jesus tells his Apostles to put their faith in him, for he is "the way, and the truth and the life" (Jn 14:6). Christ is the way that leads to the Father, the truth which gives meaning to human existence, and the source of that life which is eternal joy with all the saints in his heavenly Kingdom. Let us take the Lord at his word! Let us renew our faith in him and put all our hope in his promises!

With this encouragement to persevere in the faith of Peter (cf. Lk 22:32; Mt 16:17), I greet all of you with great affection. I thank Cardinal Egan for his cordial words of welcome in your name. At this Mass, the Church in the United States celebrates the two hundredth anniversary of the creation of the Sees of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Louisville from the mother See of Baltimore. The presence around this altar of the Successor of Peter, his brother bishops and priests, and deacons, men and women religious, and lay faithful from throughout the fifty states of the Union, eloquently manifests our communion in the Catholic faith which comes to us from the Apostles.

Our celebration today is also a sign of the impressive growth which God has given to the Church in your country in the past two hundred years. From a small flock like that described in the first reading, the Church in America has been built up in fidelity to the twin commandment of love of God and love of neighbor. 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.

This great accomplishment was not without its challenges. Today's first reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, speaks of linguistic and cultural tensions already present within the earliest Church community. At the same time, it shows the power of the word of God, authoritatively proclaimed by the Apostles and received in faith, to create a unity which transcends the divisions arising from human limitations and weakness. Here we are reminded of a fundamental truth: that the Church's unity has no other basis than the Word of God, made flesh in Christ Jesus our Lord. All external signs of identity, all structures, associations and programs, valuable or even essential as they may be, ultimately exist only to support and foster the deeper unity which, in Christ, is God's indefectible gift to his Church.

The first reading also makes clear, as we see from the imposition of hands on the first deacons, that the Church's unity is "apostolic". It is a visible unity, grounded in the Apostles whom Christ chose and appointed as witnesses to his resurrection, and it is born of what the Scriptures call "the obedience of faith" (Rom 1:5; cf. Acts 6:7).

"Authority" … "obedience". To be frank, these are not easy words to speak nowadays. Words like these represent a "stumbling stone" for many of our contemporaries, especially in a society which rightly places a high value on personal freedom. Yet, in the light of our faith in Jesus Christ - "the way and the truth and the life" - we come to see the fullest meaning, value, and indeed beauty, of those words. The Gospel teaches us that true freedom, the freedom of the children of God, is found only in the self-surrender which is part of the mystery of love. Only by losing ourselves, the Lord tells us, do we truly find ourselves (cf. Lk 17:33). True freedom blossoms when we turn away from the burden of sin, which clouds our perceptions and weakens our resolve, and find the source of our ultimate happiness in him who is infinite love, infinite freedom, infinite life. "In his will is our peace".

Real freedom, then, is God's gracious gift, the fruit of conversion to his truth, the truth which makes us free (cf. Jn 8:32). And this freedom in truth brings in its wake a new and liberating way of seeing reality. When we put on "the mind of Christ" (cf. Phil 2:5), new horizons open before us! In the light of faith, within the communion of the Church, we also find the inspiration and strength to become a leaven of the Gospel in the world. We become the light of the world, the salt of the earth (cf. Mt 5:13-14), entrusted with the "apostolate" of making our own lives, and the world in which we live, conform ever more fully to God's saving plan.

This magnificent vision of a world being transformed by the liberating truth of the Gospel is reflected in the description of the Church found in today's second reading. The Apostle tells us that Christ, risen from the dead, is the keystone of a great temple which is even now rising in the Spirit. And we, the members of his body, through Baptism have become "living stones" in that temple, sharing in the life of God by grace, blessed with the freedom of the sons of God, and empowered to offer spiritual sacrifices pleasing to him (cf. 1 Pet 2:5). And what is this offering which we are called to make, if not to direct our every thought, word and action to the truth of the Gospel and to harness all our energies in the service of God's Kingdom? Only in this way can we build with God, on the one foundation which is Christ (cf. 1 Cor 3:11). Only in this way can we build something that will truly endure. Only in this way can our lives find ultimate meaning and bear lasting fruit.

Today we recall the bicentennial of a watershed in the history of the Church in the United States: its first great chapter of growth. In these two hundred years, the face of the Catholic community in your country has changed greatly. We think of the successive waves of immigrants whose traditions have so enriched the Church in America. We think of the strong faith which built up the network of churches, educational, healthcare and social institutions which have long been the hallmark of the Church in this land. We think also of those countless fathers and mothers who passed on the faith to their children, the steady ministry of the many priests who devoted their lives to the care of souls, and the incalculable contribution made by so many men and women religious, who not only taught generations of children how to read and write, but also inspired in them a lifelong desire to know God, to love him and to serve him. How many "spiritual sacrifices pleasing to God" have been offered up in these two centuries! In this land of religious liberty, Catholics found freedom not only to practice their faith, but also to participate fully in civic life, bringing their deepest moral convictions to the public square and cooperating with their neighbors in shaping a vibrant, democratic society. Today's celebration is more than an occasion of gratitude for graces received. It is also 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.

"You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people he claims for his own, to proclaim his glorious works" (1 Pet 2:9). These words of the Apostle Peter do not simply remind us of the dignity which is ours by God's grace; they also challenge us to an ever greater fidelity to the glorious inheritance which we have received in Christ (cf. Eph 1:18). They challenge us to examine our consciences, to purify our hearts, to renew our baptismal commitment to reject Satan and all his empty promises. They challenge us to be a people of joy, heralds of the unfailing hope (cf. Rom 5:5) born of faith in God's word, and trust in his promises.

Each day, throughout this land, you and so many of your neighbors pray to the Father in the Lord's own words: "Thy Kingdom come". This prayer needs to shape the mind and heart of every Christian in this nation. It needs to bear fruit in the way you lead your lives and in the way you build up your families and your communities. It needs to create new "settings of hope" (cf. Spe Salvi, 32ff.) where God's Kingdom becomes present in all its saving power.

Praying fervently for the coming of the Kingdom also means being constantly alert for the signs of its presence, and working for its growth in every sector of society. It means facing the challenges of present and future with confidence in Christ's victory and a commitment to extending his reign. It means not losing heart in the face of resistance, adversity and scandal. It means overcoming every separation between faith and life, and countering false gospels of freedom and happiness. It also means rejecting a false dichotomy between faith and political life, since, as the Second Vatican Council put it, "there is no human activity - even in secular affairs - which can be withdrawn from God's dominion" (Lumen Gentium, 36). It means working to enrich American society and culture with the beauty and truth of the Gospel, and never losing sight of that great hope which gives meaning and value to all the other hopes which inspire our lives.

And this, dear friends, is the particular challenge which the Successor of Saint Peter sets before you today. As "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation", follow faithfully in the footsteps of those who have gone before you! Hasten the coming of God's Kingdom in this land! Past generations have left you an impressive legacy. In our day too, the Catholic community in this nation has been outstanding in its prophetic witness in the defense of life, in the education of the young, in care for the poor, the sick and the stranger in your midst. On these solid foundations, the future of the Church in America must even now begin to rise!

Yesterday, not far from here, I was moved by the joy, the hope and the generous love of Christ which I saw on the faces of the many young people assembled in Dunwoodie. They are the Church's future, and they deserve all the prayer and support that you can give them. And so I wish to close by adding a special word of encouragement to them. My dear young friends, like the seven men, "filled with the Spirit and wisdom" whom the Apostles charged with care for the young Church, may you step forward and take up the responsibility which your faith in Christ sets before you! May you find the courage to proclaim Christ, "the same, yesterday, and today and for ever" and the unchanging truths which have their foundation in him (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 10; Heb 13:8). These are the truths that set us free! They are the truths which alone can guarantee respect for the inalienable dignity and rights of each man, woman and child in our world - including the most defenseless of all human beings, the unborn child in the mother's womb.

In a world where, as Pope John Paul II, speaking in this very place, reminded us, Lazarus continues to stand at our door (Homily at Yankee Stadium, October 2, 1979, No. 7), let your faith and love bear rich fruit in outreach to the poor, the needy and those without a voice. Young men and women of America, I urge you: open your hearts to the Lord's call to follow him in the priesthood and the religious life. Can there be any greater mark of love than this: to follow in the footsteps of Christ, who was willing to lay down his life for his friends (cf. Jn 15:13)?

In today's Gospel, the Lord promises his disciples that they will perform works even greater than his (cf. Jn 14:12). Dear friends, only God in his providence knows what works his grace has yet to bring forth in your lives and in the life of the Church in the United States. Yet Christ's promise fills us with sure hope. Let us now join our prayers to his, as living stones in that spiritual temple which is his one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Let us lift our eyes to him, for even now he is preparing for us a place in his Father's house. And empowered by his Holy Spirit, let us work with renewed zeal for the spread of his Kingdom.

"Happy are you who believe!" (cf. 1 Pet 2:7). Let us turn to Jesus! He alone is the way that leads to eternal happiness, the truth who satisfies the deepest longings of every heart, and the life who brings ever new joy and hope, to us and to our world. Amen.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Papal trip challenges Catholics on abuse

Papal trip challenges Catholics on abuse
By RACHEL ZOLL, AP Religion Writer

The clergy sex abuse scandal had exhausted American Catholics.

After six years of painful revelations about guilty priests, apologies to victims, reforms and massive settlements, many hoped the issue could wither and fade into the background.

But Pope Benedict XVI's focus on the problem in his first papal visit to the U.S. — seen most dramatically in his private meeting with victims — showed that the spiritual leader of the world's 1 billion Roman Catholics believes his church still has healing to do.

There is already one tangible impact. The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said dozens of new people have come forward in the last few days to say they were molested as children. Many told the Survivors Network they were drawn by the pope's remarks.

Teresa Kettelkamp, who oversees child protection programs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, had been cautioning church leaders against "issue fatigue" on abuse. Kettelkamp said she expects more people to come forward with claims in the coming months because of Benedict's actions.

The pope's visit has now made it impossible to play down the problem, she said.

"The fact that he mentioned the issue on the plane on the way over here and has continued to mention it nearly every time he's spoken — it's just so much on the radar now for all of us," Kettelkamp said Sunday, the final day of Benedict's trip.

Many Catholics feared the scandal would overshadow Benedict's message to Americans. But it was the pope who made the problem a centerpiece of his visit.

Benedict did address many other issues, including immigration rights, terrorism, human rights and, of course, Catholic faith and practice. He was met with an enthusiasm that spread among the general public, who lined the streets by the hundreds to see him.

But the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said that the pope had made the abuse scandal a core theme of the entire trip, "to give hope to the church in the United States."

Before his plane from Rome had landed Tuesday in Washington, he said that he was "deeply ashamed" of the scandal and pledged to keep pedophiles out of the priesthood.

He later told the nation's bishops that the problem had sometimes been very "badly handled" — an indirect but clear papal admonition. The bishops had a "God-given duty" to reach out with compassion to victims, he said.

Benedict then took a step that no other pope is believed to have taken. He met privately with five people who had been molested by priests in the Archdiocese of Boston, where the long-simmering problem erupted in 2002 and spread nationwide.

"In receiving them he was trying to reach out to all those who were affected by the sexual abuse crisis," said Cardinal Sean O'Malley, archbishop of Boston since 2003, who helped arrange the meeting.

Many advocates for victims wonder how much further Benedict is willing to go. They say children won't be safe unless the church creates an independent system to discipline bishops who fail to warn parents and police about abusive clergy. Only the pope oversees bishops.

Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Neb., has refused to participate in the bishops' child protection programs that aren't required by church law.

Ohio Judge Michael Merz, head of the National Review Board, a lay panel formed by the bishops to monitor their reforms, has said that Bruskewitz' conduct "scandalizes the faithful." Yet, there have been no public consequences for the bishop.

Cardinal William Levada, the former archbishop of San Francisco, who now leads the Vatican office that reviews abuse cases worldwide, said last Friday that he didn't know of any bishops guilty of "aiding and abetting" pedophiles, and would respond if he did. Bishops who have made mistakes, largely took advice that was accepted at the time but proved wrong, he said.

Jason Berry, a New Orleans writer who first drew national attention to clergy sex abuse in the 1980s, said Levada is essentially absolving himself along with his fellow U.S. prelates.

Levada was archbishop in Portland from 1986 to 1995. In 2004, Portland became the first American diocese to seek bankruptcy protection, eventually paying $52 million to 175 victims.
When Levada was archbishop of San Francisco, the chairman of a panel formed to help the archdiocese review abuse claims resigned in protest, accusing church leaders of "deception" for blocking the panel's findings.

Levada told reporters in a meeting at Time magazine's offices on Friday that it is possible church law could be changed to help crack down on abuse, though Lombardi stressed later that no immediate revisions are planned.

"This is a crisis that has built up over generations," Berry said. "You cannot expect it to simply disappear in the space of five years."

How the situation develops could depend on how willing lay Catholics are to confront their bishops. Despite Benedict's remarks, there might not be much appetite for that.

Many Catholics are tired of having their church singled out for a problem that they note is common but often ignored in wider society, and staggered by the thousands of accusations and more than $2 billion in costs from the crisis.

"The pastoral gesture toward sex abuse victims played out very well. I think he won over a lot of people. But will anything change?" asked David Gibson, a former Vatican radio newsman and author of the biography "The Rule of Benedict." "It seems clear that bishops will not be accountable. Is that reality going to sink in after the glow is gone?"

Copyright © 2008 The Associated Press.

Prayer of Pope Benedict XVI at Ground Zero

Prayer of Pope Benedict XVI at Ground Zero

On Sunday 20 April 2008, Pope Benedict XVI will offer this prayer at the site of the terrorist attack in New York City, 11 September 2001.

O God of love, compassion, and healing,
look on us, people of many different faiths
and traditions,
who gather today at this site,
the scene of incredible violence and pain.

We ask you in your goodness
to give eternal light and peace
to all who died here —the heroic first-responders:
our fire fighters, police officers,
emergency service workers, and
Port Authority personnel,
along with all the innocent men and women
who were victims of this tragedy
simply because their work or service
brought them here on September 11, 2001.

We ask you, in your compassion
to bring healing to those
who, because of their presence here that day,
suffer from injuries and illness.
Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families
and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy.
Give them strength to continue their lives
with courage and hope.

We are mindful as well
of those who suffered death, injury, and loss
on the same day at the Pentagon and in
Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Our hearts are one with theirs
as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering.

God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world:
peace in the hearts of all men and women
and peace among the nations of the earth.
Turn to your way of love
those whose hearts and minds
are consumed with hatred.

God of understanding,
overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy,
we seek your light and guidance
as we confront such terrible events.
Grant that those whose lives were spared
may live so that the lives lost here
may not have been lost in vain.

Comfort and console us,
strengthen us in hope,
and give us the wisdom and courage
to work tirelessly for a world
where true peace and love reign
among nations and in the hearts of all.

Holy Father's Words at St. Joseph's Seminary at Dunwoodie

Address to Seminarians and Young People, St. Joseph's Seminary (Dunwoodie), New York
On Saturday 19 April 2008, the Holy Father gave the following address to the seminarians and youth gathered at St. Joseph's Seminary (Dunwoodie), New York.

Your Eminence,Dear Brother Bishops,Dear Young Friends,

"Proclaim the Lord Christ … and always have your answer ready for people who ask the reason for the hope that is within you" (1 Pet 3:15). With these words from the First Letter of Peter I greet each of you with heartfelt affection. I thank Cardinal Egan for his kind words of welcome and I also thank the representatives chosen from among you for their gestures of welcome. To Bishop Walsh, Rector of Saint Joseph Seminary, staff and seminarians, I offer my special greetings and gratitude.

Young friends, I am very happy to have the opportunity to speak with you. Please pass on my warm greetings to your family members and relatives, and to the teachers and staff of the various schools, colleges and universities you attend. I know that many people have worked hard to ensure that our gathering could take place. I am most grateful to them all. Also, I wish to acknowledge your singing to me Happy Birthday! Thank you for this moving gesture; I give you all an "A plus" for your German pronunciation! This evening I wish to share with you some thoughts about being disciples of Jesus Christ ? walking in the Lord's footsteps, our own lives become a journey of hope.

In front of you are the images of six ordinary men and women who grew up to lead extraordinary lives. The Church honors them as Venerable, Blessed, or Saint: each responded to the Lord's call to a life of charity and each served him here, in the alleys, streets and suburbs of New York. I am struck by what a remarkably diverse group they are: poor and rich, lay men and women - one a wealthy wife and mother - priests and sisters, immigrants from afar, the daughter of a Mohawk warrior father and Algonquin mother, another a Haitian slave, and a Cuban intellectual.

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, Saint John Neumann, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, Venerable Pierre Toussaint, and Padre Felix Varela: any one of us could be among them, for there is no stereotype to this group, no single mold. Yet a closer look reveals that there are common elements. Inflamed with the love of Jesus, their lives became remarkable journeys of hope. For some, that meant leaving home and embarking on a pilgrim journey of thousands of miles. For each there was an act of abandonment to God, in the confidence that he is the final destination of every pilgrim. And all offered an outstretched hand of hope to those they encountered along the way, often awakening in them a life of faith. Through orphanages, schools and hospitals, by befriending the poor, the sick and the marginalized, and through the compelling witness that comes from walking humbly in the footsteps of Jesus, these six people laid open the way of faith, hope and charity to countless individuals, including perhaps your own ancestors.

And what of today? Who bears witness to the Good News of Jesus on the streets of New York, in the troubled neighborhoods of large cities, in the places where the young gather, seeking someone in whom they can trust? God is our origin and our destination, and Jesus the way. The path of that journey twists and turns ? just as it did for our saints ? through the joys and the trials of ordinary, everyday life: within your families, at school or college, during your recreation activities, and in your parish communities. All these places are marked by the culture in which you are growing up. As young Americans you are offered many opportunities for personal development, and you are brought up with a sense of generosity, service and fairness. Yet you do not need me to tell you that there are also difficulties: activities and mindsets which stifle hope, pathways which seem to lead to happiness and fulfillment but in fact end only in confusion and fear.

My own years as a teenager were marred by a sinister regime that thought it had all the answers; its influence grew - infiltrating schools and civic bodies, as well as politics and even religion - before it was fully recognized for the monster it was. It banished God and thus became impervious to anything true and good. Many of your grandparents and great-grandparents will have recounted the horror of the destruction that ensued. Indeed, some of them came to America precisely to escape such terror.

Let us thank God that today many people of your generation are able to enjoy the liberties which have arisen through the extension of democracy and respect for human rights. Let us thank God for all those who strive to ensure that you can grow up in an environment that nurtures what is beautiful, good, and true: your parents and grandparents, your teachers and priests, those civic leaders who seek what is right and just.

The power to destroy does, however, remain. To pretend otherwise would be to fool ourselves. Yet, it never triumphs; it is defeated. This is the essence of the hope that defines us as Christians; and the Church recalls this most dramatically during the Easter Triduum and celebrates it with great joy in the season of Easter! The One who shows us the way beyond death is the One who shows us how to overcome destruction and fear: thus it is Jesus who is the true teacher of life (cf. Spe Salvi, 6). His death and resurrection mean that we can say to the Father "you have restored us to life!" (Prayer after Communion, Good Friday). And so, just a few weeks ago, during the beautiful Easter Vigil liturgy, it was not from despair or fear that we cried out to God for our world, but with hope-filled confidence: dispel the darkness of our heart! dispel the darkness of our minds! (cf. Prayer at the Lighting of the Easter Candle).

What might that darkness be? What happens when people, especially the most vulnerable, encounter a clenched fist of repression or manipulation rather than a hand of hope? A first group of examples pertains to the heart. Here, the dreams and longings that young people pursue can so easily be shattered or destroyed. I am thinking of those affected by drug and substance abuse, homelessness and poverty, racism, violence, and degradation - especially of girls and women. While the causes of these problems are complex, all have in common a poisoned attitude of mind which results in people being treated as mere objects ? a callousness of heart takes hold which first ignores, then ridicules, the God-given dignity of every human being. Such tragedies also point to what might have been and what could be, were there other hands - your hands - reaching out. I encourage you to invite others, especially the vulnerable and the innocent, to join you along the way of goodness and hope.

The second area of darkness - that which affects the mind - often goes unnoticed, and for this reason is particularly sinister. The manipulation of truth distorts our perception of reality, and tarnishes our imagination and aspirations. I have already mentioned the many liberties which you are fortunate enough to enjoy. The fundamental importance of freedom must be rigorously safeguarded. It is no surprise then that numerous individuals and groups vociferously claim their freedom in the public forum. Yet freedom is a delicate value. It can be misunderstood or misused so as to lead not to the happiness which we all expect it to yield, but to a dark arena of manipulation in which our understanding of self and the world becomes confused, or even distorted by those who have an ulterior agenda.

Have you noticed how often the call for freedom is made without ever referring to the truth of the human person? Some today argue that respect for freedom of the individual makes it wrong to seek truth, including the truth about what is good. In some circles to speak of truth is seen as controversial or divisive, and consequently best kept in the private sphere. And in truth's place - or better said its absence - an idea has spread which, in giving value to everything indiscriminately, claims to assure freedom and to liberate conscience. This we call relativism. But what purpose has a "freedom" which, in disregarding truth, pursues what is false or wrong? How many young people have been offered a hand which in the name of freedom or experience has led them to addiction, to moral or intellectual confusion, to hurt, to a loss of self-respect, even to despair and so tragically and sadly to the taking of their own life? Dear friends, truth is not an imposition. Nor is it simply a set of rules. It is a discovery of the One who never fails us; the One whom we can always trust. In seeking truth we come to live by belief because ultimately truth is a person: Jesus Christ. That is why authentic freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in; nothing less than letting go of self and allowing oneself to be drawn into Christ's very being for others (cf. Spe Salvi, 28).

How then can we as believers help others to walk the path of freedom which brings fulfillment and lasting happiness? Let us again turn to the saints. How did their witness truly free others from the darkness of heart and mind? The answer is found in the kernel of their faith; the kernel of our faith. The Incarnation, the birth of Jesus, tells us that God does indeed find a place among us. Though the inn is full, he enters through the stable, and there are people who see his light. They recognize Herod's dark closed world for what it is, and instead follow the bright guiding star of the night sky. And what shines forth? Here you might recall the prayer uttered on the most holy night of Easter: "Father we share in the light of your glory through your Son the light of the world … inflame us with your hope!" (Blessing of the Fire). And so, in solemn procession with our lighted candles we pass the light of Christ among us. It is "the light which dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy, casts out hatred, brings us peace, and humbles earthly pride" (Exsultet). This is Christ's light at work. This is the way of the saints. It is a magnificent vision of hope - Christ's light beckons you to be guiding stars for others, walking Christ's way of forgiveness, reconciliation, humility, joy and peace.

At times, however, we are tempted to close in on ourselves, to doubt the strength of Christ's radiance, to limit the horizon of hope. Take courage! Fix your gaze on our saints. The diversity of their experience of God's presence prompts us to discover anew the breadth and depth of Christianity. Let your imaginations soar freely along the limitless expanse of the horizons of Christian discipleship. Sometimes we are looked upon as people who speak only of prohibitions. Nothing could be further from the truth! Authentic Christian discipleship is marked by a sense of wonder. We stand before the God we know and love as a friend, the vastness of his creation, and the beauty of our Christian faith.

Dear friends, the example of the saints invites us, then, to consider four essential aspects of the treasure of our faith: personal prayer and silence, liturgical prayer, charity in action, and vocations.

What matters most is that you develop your personal relationship with God. That relationship is expressed in prayer. God by his very nature speaks, hears, and replies. Indeed, Saint Paul reminds us: we can and should "pray constantly" (1 Thess 5:17). Far from turning in on ourselves or withdrawing from the ups and downs of life, by praying we turn towards God and through him to each other, including the marginalized and those following ways other than God's path (cf. Spe Salvi, 33). As the saints teach us so vividly, prayer becomes hope in action. Christ was their constant companion, with whom they conversed at every step of their journey for others.

There is another aspect of prayer which we need to remember: silent contemplation. Saint John, for example, tells us that to embrace God's revelation we must first listen, then respond by proclaiming what we have heard and seen (cf. 1 Jn 1:2-3; Dei Verbum, 1). Have we perhaps lost something of the art of listening? Do you leave space to hear God's whisper, calling you forth into goodness? Friends, do not be afraid of silence or stillness, listen to God, adore him in the Eucharist. Let his word shape your journey as an unfolding of holiness.

In the liturgy we find the whole Church at prayer. The word liturgy means the participation of God's people in "the work of Christ the Priest and of His Body which is the Church" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7). What is that work? First of all it refers to Christ's Passion, his Death and Resurrection, and his Ascension - what we call the Paschal Mystery. It also refers to the celebration of the liturgy itself. The two meanings are in fact inseparably linked because this "work of Jesus" is the real content of the liturgy. Through the liturgy, the "work of Jesus" is continually brought into contact with history; with our lives in order to shape them. Here we catch another glimpse of the grandeur of our Christian faith. Whenever you gather for Mass, when you go to Confession, whenever you celebrate any of the sacraments, Jesus is at work. Through the Holy Spirit, he draws you to himself, into his sacrificial love of the Father which becomes love for all. We see then that the Church's liturgy is a ministry of hope for humanity. Your faithful participation, is an active hope which helps to keep the world - saints and sinners alike - open to God; this is the truly human hope we offer everyone (cf. Spe Salvi, 34).

Your personal prayer, your times of silent contemplation, and your participation in the Church's liturgy, bring you closer to God and also prepare you to serve others. The saints accompanying us this evening show us that the life of faith and hope is also a life of charity. Contemplating Jesus on the Cross we see love in its most radical form. We can begin to imagine the path of love along which we must move (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 12).

The opportunities to make this journey are abundant. Look about you with Christ's eyes, listen with his ears, feel and think with his heart and mind. Are you ready to give all as he did for truth and justice? Many of the examples of the suffering which our saints responded to with compassion are still found here in this city and beyond. And new injustices have arisen: some are complex and stem from the exploitation of the heart and manipulation of the mind; even our common habitat, the earth itself, groans under the weight of consumerist greed and irresponsible exploitation. We must listen deeply. We must respond with a renewed social action that stems from the universal love that knows no bounds. In this way, we ensure that our works of mercy and justice become hope in action for others.

Dear young people, finally I wish to share a word about vocations. First of all my thoughts go to your parents, grandparents and godparents. They have been your primary educators in the faith. By presenting you for baptism, they made it possible for you to receive the greatest gift of your life. On that day you entered into the holiness of God himself. You became adoptive sons and daughters of the Father. You were incorporated into Christ. You were made a dwelling place of his Spirit. Let us pray for mothers and fathers throughout the world, particularly those who may be struggling in any way - socially, materially, spiritually. Let us honor the vocation of matrimony and the dignity of family life. Let us always appreciate that it is in families that vocations are given life.

Gathered here at Saint Joseph Seminary, I greet the seminarians present and indeed encourage all seminarians throughout America. I am glad to know that your numbers are increasing! The People of God look to you to be holy priests, on a daily journey of conversion, inspiring in others the desire to enter more deeply into the ecclesial life of believers. I urge you to deepen your friendship with Jesus the Good Shepherd. Talk heart to heart with him. Reject any temptation to ostentation, careerism, or conceit. Strive for a pattern of life truly marked by charity, chastity and humility, in imitation of Christ, the Eternal High Priest, of whom you are to become living icons (cf. Pastores Dabo Vobis, 33). Dear seminarians, I pray for you daily. Remember that what counts before the Lord is to dwell in his love and to make his love shine forth for others.

Religious Sisters, Brothers and Priests contribute greatly to the mission of the Church. Their prophetic witness is marked by a profound conviction of the primacy with which the Gospel shapes Christian life and transforms society. Today, I wish to draw your attention to the positive spiritual renewal which Congregations are undertaking in relation to their charism. The word charism means a gift freely and graciously given. Charisms are bestowed by the Holy Spirit, who inspires founders and foundresses, and shapes Congregations with a subsequent spiritual heritage. The wondrous array of charisms proper to each Religious Institute is an extraordinary spiritual treasury. Indeed, the history of the Church is perhaps most beautifully portrayed through the history of her schools of spirituality, most of which stem from the saintly lives of founders and foundresses. Through the discovery of charisms, which yield such a breadth of spiritual wisdom, I am sure that some of you young people will be drawn to a life of apostolic or contemplative service. Do not be shy to speak with Religious Brothers, Sisters or Priests about the charism and spirituality of their Congregation. No perfect community exists, but it is fidelity to a founding charism, not to particular individuals, that the Lord calls you to discern. Have courage! You too can make your life a gift of self for the love of the Lord Jesus and, in him, of every member of the human family (cf. Vita Consecrata, 3).

Friends, again I ask you, what about today? What are you seeking? What is God whispering to you? The hope which never disappoints is Jesus Christ. The saints show us the selfless love of his way. As disciples of Christ, their extraordinary journeys unfolded within the community of hope, which is the Church. It is from within the Church that you too will find the courage and support to walk the way of the Lord. Nourished by personal prayer, prompted in silence, shaped by the Church's liturgy you will discover the particular vocation God has for you. Embrace it with joy. You are Christ's disciples today. Shine his light upon this great city and beyond. Show the world the reason for the hope that resonates within you. Tell others about the truth that sets you free. With these sentiments of great hope in you I bid you farewell, until we meet again in Sydney this July for World Youth Day! And as a pledge of my love for you and your families, I gladly impart my Apostolic Blessing.

(Continuing in Spanish)
Queridos Seminaristas, queridos jóvenes:
Es para mí una gran alegría poder encontrarme con todos ustedes en este día de mi cumpleaños. Gracias por su acogida y por el cariño que me han demostrado.

Les animo a abrirle al Señor su corazón para que Él lo llene por completo y con el fuego de su amor lleven su Evangelio a todos los barrios de Nueva York.

La luz de la fe les impulsará a responder al mal con el bien y la santidad de vida, como lo hicieron los grandes testigos del Evangelio a lo largo de los siglos. Ustedes están llamados a continuar esa cadena de amigos de Jesús, que encontraron en su amor el gran tesoro de sus vidas. Cultiven esta amistad a través de la oración, tanto personal como litúrgica, y por medio de las obras de caridad y del compromiso por ayudar a los más necesitados. Si no lo han hecho, plantéense seriamente si el Señor les pide seguirlo de un modo radical en el ministerio sacerdotal o en la vida consagrada. No basta una relación esporádica con Cristo. Una amistad así no es tal. Cristo les quiere amigos suyos íntimos, fieles y perseverantes.

A la vez que les renuevo mi invitación a participar en la Jornada Mundial de la Juventud en Sidney, les aseguro mi recuerdo en la oración, en la que suplico a Dios que los haga auténticos discípulos de Cristo Resucitado. Muchas gracias.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Rept #9 on Academic Freedom

The Pope on Academic Freedom

Long before he became Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Jospeh Ratzinger had been caricatured as the Catholic Church's Grand Inquisitor, the fearsome guardian of orthodoxy - with an eye on America's Catholic colleges, which the Vatican since the 1960s was wary were becoming more like their secular counterparts.

In 1986, Ratzinger officially silenced theologian Fr. Charles Currran of Catholic University in Washington D.C., leading to Curran's dismissal (and a subsequent re-tooling of the school along more conventionally Catholic lines). That apparently led to more obedience to Rome's dictates. In 1999 the American bishops mandated that if a college wanted to call itself Catholic, its theologians needed a bishop's good-housekeeping seal.

And yet, truth to tell, the majority of Catholic schools hadn't really toed the line. So Benedict's speech on Thursday afternoon at Catholic University to some 200 Roman Catholic school administrators was anticipated with some anxiety. A few months ago, the prevailing wisdom was that the Pope had called the meeting to take them to the woodshed. Patrick Reilly, president of the Catholic-education watchdog group, the Cardinal Newman society, was quoted in The Washington Post citing Vatican officials as saying the speech would "raise a lot of eyebrows."

Some liberals worried that the Pope might force them to compromise their academic freedom.
The fears did not prove to be completely right. The practical part of Benedict's speech began with a definition of freedom that would warm even an atheist's heart: "In regard to faculty members at Catholic colleges universities, I wish to reaffirm the great value of academic freedom. In virtue of this freedom you are called to search for the truth wherever careful analysis of evidence leads you."

But then he turned the corner. "Yet... any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and teaching of the Church would obstruct or even betray the university's identity and mission." He continued: "Divergence from this vision weakens Catholic identity and, far from advancing freedom, inevitably leads to confusion, whether moral, intellectual or spiritual." His prescription: "Teachers and administrators, whether in universities or schools, have the duty and privilege to ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice. This requires that public witness to the way of Christ, as found in the Gospel and and upheld by the Church's Magisterium [the teaching authority of the Church], shapes all aspects of an institution's life, both inside and outside the classroom."

Both advocates of untrammeled academic freedom and obedience to orthodoxy could claim a victory. "We're thrilled," says the Newman Society's Reilly. "It's exactly what we expected. that's right at the heart of our concerns about higher education." But Patricia McGuire, the President of Washington's Trinity College, who has frequently taken issue with Reilly, says the Pope's message is consistent with a 1990 document by John Paul II. Says McGuire, "I do not hear a new message."

In fact, the message that expressed itself most urgently today was in the philosophical, rather than the policy-setting part of the talk, and it dealt with the definition of freedom, which is becoming a recurring theme on this trip, as Benedict repeatedly stresses that it is found only in faith. "While we have sought diligently to engage the intellect of our young, perhaps we have neglected the will," the Pope mused. Because free will, if rightly tutored and exercised, does not involve "an opting-out" of belief, "but an opting-in."

For those who think that definition of freedom may be fine for a priest but constricting for an academic whose findings contradict Church teachings, Benedict had an answer: it's time to reconsider what you mean by truth. "Truth means more than knowledge," he commented. "Only in faith can truth become incarnate and reason truly human." And "the truths of faith and reason never contradict one another." There may be some Catholic educators who have trouble with that simple equation. But for now, they're probably happy that the Pope is bandying words rather than taking action.

Report #8

Pope says unilateral acts undermine U.N.
By Philip Pullella

Countries that act unilaterally on the world stage undermine the authority of the United Nations and weaken the broad consensus needed to confront global problems, Pope Benedict said on Friday.

In a major speech to the U.N. General Assembly, the pope also said the international community sometimes had the duty to intervene when a country could not protect its own people from "grave and sustained violations of human rights."

The pope, who arrived from Washington on the second leg of a six-day U.S. trip, was only the third pontiff in history to address the General Assembly.

Speaking in French and English from the Assembly's green marble podium, he gave a wide-ranging address on issues such as globalization, human rights and the environment.

The international community must be "capable of responding to the demands of the human family through binding international rules," said the 81-year-old pope, who spoke after meeting privately with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

He said the notion of multilateral consensus was "in crisis because it is still subordinated to the decisions of a few, whereas the world's problems call for interventions in the form of collective action by the international community."

While Benedict did not mention any country, this appeared to refer to the United States, which led the 2003 invasion of Iraq despite a Security Council refusal to approve it.

The Vatican strongly opposed the recourse to war.

Benedict, who met U.S. President George W. Bush during his Washington visit, called for "a deeper search for ways of pre-empting and managing conflicts by exploring every possible diplomatic avenue, and giving attention and encouragement to even the faintest sign of dialogue or desire for reconciliation."

In an apparent reference to the conflict in the Sudanese region of Darfur, the pope said every state had the "primary duty" to protect its citizens from human rights violations and humanitarian crises but outside intervention was sometimes justified.

"If states are unable to guarantee such protection, the international community must intervene with the juridical means provided in the United Nations Charter and in other international instruments," he said.

He called human rights "the common language and ethical substratum of international relations," and added that promoting human rights was the best way to eliminate inequalities.

"Indeed, the victims of hardship and despair, whose human dignity is violated with impunity, become easy prey to the call to violence, and they can then become violators of peace," he said in an apparent reference to social causes of terrorism.

Benedict called for religious freedom to be protected against secularist views and against majority religions that sideline other faiths -- an apparent reference to Muslim states where some Christian minorities report discrimination.

"It should never be necessary to deny God in order to enjoy one's rights," he said.
Diplomats from some 200 states gave him a standing ovation when he ended his speech by reading the phrase "peace and prosperity" in the six official languages of the United Nations -- English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese and Russian.

Later, in the U.N. meditation room, he met U.N. staffers and wrote in the visitors' Golden Book a quote from the Prophet Isaiah: "Erit opus iustitiae pax" -- Latin for "Justice will bring about peace."

He stopped to touch a tattered U.N. flag that was flying at U.N. headquarters in Baghdad when a car bomb killed 22 people including 15 U.N. staff in 2003. Among the dead was the U.N. mission chief, Brazilian Sergio Vieira de Mello.

Later on Friday, the German-born pope was due to visit a New York synagogue just before the start of the Jewish Passover holiday. He will also visit a Manhattan parish founded by German immigrants in 1873.

The pope arrived in Washington on Tuesday on his first visit to the United States as pontiff.
On Thursday, he held a surprise meeting with victims of sexual abuse by priests in a bid to heal scars from a scandal that deeply tarnished the Catholic Church in the United States.
Some three dozen protesters outside the U.N. headquarters held banners including one reading "Child sexual abuse is worse than terrorism."

Copyright © 2008 Yahoo! Inc.

Report #7

FROM: Times Online
Pope Benedict - No Dr Strangelove
His message of divine love is surprisingly eloquent and confounds the early stereotypes
Gerard Baker

Anybody who has ever had to stand at a podium after a gifted speaker knows how it might have been for Pope Benedict XVI this week as he has made the first papal visit to the United States since John Paul II.

His predecessor was the ultimate media-savvy leader. When he came to the ultimate media-fixated nation, it was a match made in Heaven. Millions of the faithful and the merely curious flocked to parks and stadiums. People at times had to be physically restrained from throwing themselves at him. Even on his last trip here in 1999, visibly deteriorating, his mere presence was enough to move the least sentimental of grizzled Midwesterners.

The man who became Benedict was never going to match that. It would be rather like asking an ageing professor of English to take over from Laurence Olivier as Hamlet. He knows all the lines but he’s not even going to try to pull off the delivery.

Of course, when he was elected three years ago, the new Pope’s personal history created its own, somewhat lowered set of expectations. His membership of the Hitler Youth (actually mandatory for all young Germans, but why spoil a good story?); his reputation as the fierce intendant of Catholic orthodoxy; the fact that he spoke English in a vaguely “Ve haf veys of making you pray!” kind of accent. It was all too delicious for the headline writers. He was instantly dubbed Panzer Cardinal and The Enforcer.

Before the incense had drifted away from his installation Mass, the world had determined that this 265th pontiff was a rather disappointing, even frightening, sort of substitute for the last one, a kind of cross between Torquemada and Dr Strangelove.

Three years have passed since the fuzzy grey smoke from the Sistine Chapel announced his elevation and it is clearer than ever on this, his most visible excursion into the limelight since then, that this is as far from the reality as it is possible to be.

The visuals of a papal trip are much the same. There are vast Masses in baseball stadiums, Popemobile-led motorcades along city streets. And though he may not be a natural, this Pope has a sure grasp of the power of the image. He speaks to the United Nations today. He extended Passover greetings to the Jewish people yesterday and met leaders of other religions. On Sunday, his last day in the US, he pays a symbolic visit to the sacred American territory of Ground Zero.

But what is most striking, as hundreds of thousands observe this Pope in person for the first time, is not the visual symbolism, the crowds or the made-for-TV events, but the imposing beauty and power of his words.

It’s already a cliché in Rome that the crowds came to see John Paul but they come to hear Benedict. Among those familiar with his career, his reputation was always that of a fierce intellectual — the theologian and author of dozens of dense tracts on Christianity. But what was missing was an understanding of Benedict’s remarkable capacity to use words to speak to the emotional part of the human brain.

Of course, the Pope will already have known that the US, unlike the Europe he hopes still to convert, is a religious place. True, as in Europe, there are a growing number of so-called cafeteria Christians, those who like to choose from a menu of moral and doctrinal options, who believe religion should be essentially a kind of divine validation of their own lifestyle rather than a call to sacrifice and commitment. But America is still fundamentally receptive to the religious principle, the idea of a single truth rather than a moral chaos of equally valid beliefs.

It would be a shame, however, if his words to Americans were not heard by people — Christians and non-Christians everywhere.

He has already startled many with the intensity of his denunciations of the actions of priests who sexually abused minors — the scandal that has turned many away from the Church in America and elsewhere — as well as those in the church hierarchy who enabled them. The Church has seemed reluctant in the past to make a complete penance for this sin but Benedict’s words this week will have done much to heal the wounds and restore trust.

Less newsworthy but perhaps more powerful for most listeners has been Benedict’s eloquence on the spiritual challenges of the modern world. At the White House, with President Bush at his side, he reminded Americans about the responsibilities as well as the great opportunities of political and economic freedom. “Freedom is ever new. It is a challenge held out to each generation, and it must constantly be won over for the cause of good.”

But the Pope’s most compelling words are a constant reminder of how absurd his stereotype has been. He speaks repeatedly of the simple beauty of human love.

Shortly before he became Pope, Benedict told a congregation: “Christianity is not an intellectual system, a collection of dogmas, or a moralism. Christianity is instead an encounter, a love story, an event.”

This idea of faith as a love story — God’s love for his people, and our love for Christ, the human face of God — is what Benedict seems to want us to understand as the defining theme of his papacy. His first encyclical was not on birth control or gay marriage, but on what many considered the somewhat surprising subject of the simple divinity of human love, including the sanctity of erotic love. This emphasis on the centrality of love to the human condition is so at odds with the caricature of the doctrinal vigilante, endlessly lecturing on the perils of sexual intemperance, that it requires us to think hard about the very nature of religion’s role in modern life. It is a useful counterweight to the popular secular view that religion is the root of all human discord.

Three years ago, as John Paul II was laid to rest under St Peter’s, his extraordinary and epoch-changing ministry at an end, a reporter turned to one of his colleagues and said, with evident feeling: “There goes one heck of a story.” But the story, as it happens, lives on, Benedict has opened a new chapter and if people would only listen they might find it has a surprising ending.

Report #6

After intimate meeting, pope turns to global audience

After a dramatic three days in which he put America's clergy sexual abuse scandal front and center, Pope Benedict XVI turned his attention Friday to the original purpose of his first U.S. visit as leader of the Roman Catholic Church — a speech at the United Nations.

Traveling in from Washington on an early morning flight, the pope was greeted by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and was to address the General Assembly a few minutes later.
Hundreds of people had gathered at a plaza outside the U.N., some brought banners saying "Wilkomen Pope Benedict XVI." One added the words "You Rock!"

The U.N. setting contrasted dramatically with the intimacy of a meeting Thursday, at which Benedict prayed with weeping victims of childhood sexual abuse by priests.

When Benedict speaks to diplomats from around the world, he'll likely touch on several broad themes, said Jo Renee Formicola, a Seton Hall University political science professor who has studied the papacy and international affairs.

Among them: a call for bedrock ethical and moral principles as a guiding force even in pluralistic societies, a human rights agenda that encompasses religious freedom and the sacredness of human life, and the responsibility of first-world nations to aid developing ones.

The pope will encourage the notion that individuals and states can rise above their own self interests and pursue the common good, Formicola said.

"This is his first real foray onto the world stage," she said. "I think he recognizes this as a historic moment. I don't think it's going to be about divisive issues. It's going to about all the things that unite us — themes of peace, opportunity, aid and assistance."

The forum also gives Benedict license to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iraq, subjects he avoided at the White House as he stood next to the architect of the five-year-old war.
Benedict's New York visit will also include a visit to ground zero, though he is not scheduled to speak. He will also lead a Mass at Yankee Stadium, visit a synagogue, and meet with leaders of other Christian denominations.

What remains to be seen is whether Benedict will continue to talk about the sexual abuse crisis. He is widely expected to broach the subject on Saturday when he says Mass for priests, deacons and members of religious orders at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan.

On Thursday, Benedict met privately with abuse victims between an open-air Mass at Nationals Park and a meeting with Catholic educators.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, a papal spokesman, said that Benedict and Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley met with a group of five or six abuse victims for about 25 minutes, offering them encouragement and hope. The group from O'Malley's archdiocese were all adults, men and women, who had been molested when they were minors. Each spoke privately with the pope and the whole group prayed together.

One of the victims, Bernie McDaid, told The Associated Press that he shook the pope's hand, told him he was an altar boy and had been abused by a priest in the sacristy of his parish. The abuse, he told Benedict, was not only sexual but spiritual.

"I said, 'Holy Father, you need to know you have a cancer in your flock and I hope you will do something for this problem; you have to fix this,'" McDaid said. "He looked down at the floor and back at me, like, 'I know what you mean.' He took it in emotionally. We looked eye to eye."
Olan Horne, another Boston-area victim who prayed and talked with Benedict, told the AP, "I believe we turned the pope's head a little in the right direction."

Both men have worked with church officials in the aftermath of the crisis, and met with a new office established by U.S. bishops in response to the scandal.

Their sentiments were echoed by O'Malley, who called the meeting "a very moving experience for all who participated."

Benedict's address to the presidents of Catholic colleges and universities was among the most anticipated of his trip, but was overshadowed by the meeting with victims.

The pope, a former academic, said academic freedom has "great value" for the schools, but does not justify promoting positions that violate the Catholic faith.

Copyright © 2008 The Associated Press.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Report #5

Pope: Catholic colleges should be in line with church
By VICTOR L. SIMPSON, Associated Press Writer1 hour, 30 minutes ago

Pope Benedict XVI told leaders of America's Roman Catholic colleges and universities Thursday that academic freedom has "great value" for the schools, but it does not justify promoting positions that violate the Catholic faith.

Benedict, a former academic, said that church teaching should shape all aspects of campus life and that Catholic educators have a "profound responsibility to lead the young to truth."
"I wish to reaffirm the great value of academic freedom," Benedict told hundreds of educators gathered at Catholic University of America.

"Yet it is also the case that any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the church would obstruct or even betray the university's identity and mission," he said.

Benedict's talk contained no explicit directive to the school presidents, but emphasized a core theme of his pontificate: that faith is compatible with reason.

"Teachers and administrators, whether in universities or schools, have the duty and privilege to ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice," Benedict said. "Divergence from this vision weakens Catholic identity and, far from advancing freedom, inevitably leads to confusion, whether moral, intellectual or spiritual."

The speech was one of the most highly anticipated presentations of Benedict's six-day visit to the U.S. — his first since he was elected in 2005.

The nation's more than 200 Catholic colleges and universities have been at the center of a tug-of-war within the church for decades over religious identity and free expression.

Conservatives often criticize the colleges, accusing them of abandoning faith to conform to an increasingly secular world. Some of the most traditional Catholics have responded by building new, more orthodox schools. One of the best known is Ave Maria University in Florida, funded by Thomas S. Monaghan, founder of Domino's Pizza.

Nearly all American Catholic colleges and universities are independent, but local bishops provide spiritual guidance to the institutions.

In 2004, the U.S. bishops warned schools against honoring or giving a platform to Catholic lawmakers who support abortion rights and take other stands contrary to church teaching.
San Antonio Archbishop Jose Gomez complained after Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, who supports legal abortion, held a campaign rally in February at St. Mary's University.

Pope John Paul II had tried to strengthen Catholic identity on campus, partly by requiring a "mandatum" from U.S. Catholic theologians by 2002, pledging that they would teach authentic doctrine.

Many professors said it was a violation of academic freedom. Some U.S. bishops said they would not enforce the mandate. The process was private, and it is not known how many professors signed on.

The Rev. John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, said he appreciated the pope's message that Catholic educators "shouldn't make any untruth appealing or attractive."

He said Catholic colleges and universities already do that by distinguishing between "providing a forum where various views can be expressed and promoting views."

Nicholas Healy, president of Ave Maria University, said he was surprised that the speech had no specific prescriptions for how schools should uphold the faith.

"My guess is that if he had been legalistic in describing that certain schools had not met certain standards, it would not have had nearly the impact this will have over time," Healy said. "This is now a new paradigm for Catholic education in the 21st century. I think many schools are going to have to take a hard look to see whether they are following it."

Benedict, the Vatican's longtime doctrinal watchdog before he became pope, had played a key role in trying to bring Catholic colleges and universities in line with Rome.

As pontiff, his position on faith and education has met with some resistance.

In January, the Vatican took the rare step of canceling a visit by the pope to Europe's largest university, the public La Sapienza in Rome, following protests by a small group of students and professors, who depicted Benedict as opposed to science.
AP Religion Writer Rachel Zoll contributed to this story.
(This version CORRECTS that mandatum affected theologians, not all faculty.)

Report #4

Sex abuse victims meet with pope
He prays with survivors in first-ever meeting between pontiff and victims
The Associated Press - Thurs., April. 17, 2008

WASHINGTON - Pope Benedict XVI, after urging bishops, priests and parishioners to heal the wounds caused by the clergy sex abuse scandal, talked and prayed privately with survivors Thursday in what was believed to be a first-ever meeting between a pontiff and abuse victims.
The Rev. Federico Lombardi, a papal spokesman, said that Benedict and Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley met with a group of five or six victims for about 25 minutes in the chapel of the papal embassy, offering them encouragement and hope.

Lombardi said the pope told the survivors he would pray for them, their families and all victims of clergy sex abuse. Each of the victims spent a few minutes with Benedict privately. Some were in tears during the meeting, Lombardi said.

Benedict has spoken repeatedly about the abuse crisis during his first trip to the United States as pope.

He called the crisis a cause of "deep shame," pledged to keep pedophiles out of the priesthood and decried the "enormous pain" that communities have suffered from such "gravely immoral behavior" by priest.

Reaching out to victimsHe told the nation's bishops that the crisis was "sometimes very badly handled," and said they must reach out with love and compassion to victims. At an open air Mass on Thursday at Nationals Park, he also urged Catholic parishioners to do what they can to reach out to victims.

Thousands of priests have been accused of molesting minors in the U.S. since 1950 and the church has paid out more than $2 billion, much of it in just the last six years, when the case of a serial molester in Boston gained national attention and prompted many victims to step forward.
Then-Boston Archbishop Bernard Law was forced to step down when it became apparent that he had allowed accused priests to be shuffled from parish-to-parish.

Gary Bergeron, an outspoken survivor of clergy sex abuse from Boston who was not in Thursday's session, failed in his attempt to meet with Pope John Paul II, Benedict's predecessor, when he spent a week at the Vatican a few years ago.

He called Thursday's meeting "a long-sought-for step in the right direction."

"The Catholic Church is partly based on symbolism, and I think the symbolism had he not met with survivors would have been horrendous," the 45-year-old Bergeron said.

In the meeting, O'Malley presented Benedict with a notebook listing the names victims of sexual abuse from the Boston Archdiocese. There were more than 1,000 names.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.

Statement at the White House - Rpt. #3

Remarks by Pope Benedict XVI at White House
By The Associated PressWed Apr 16, 12:39 PM ET

Remarks by Pope Benedict XVI at the White House on Wednesday, as transcribed by the White House.

Mr. President, thank you for your gracious words of welcome on behalf of the people of the United States of America. I deeply appreciate your invitation to visit this great country. My visit coincides with an important moment in the life of the Catholic community in America: the celebration of the 200th anniversary of elevation of the country's first Diocese — Baltimore — to a metropolitan Archdiocese and the establishment of the Sees of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Louisville.

Yet I am happy to be here as a guest of all Americans. I come as a friend, a preacher of the Gospel, and one with great respect for this vast pluralistic society. America's Catholics have made, and continue to make, an excellent contribution to the life of their country. As I begin my visit, I trust that my presence will be a source of renewal and hope for the Church in the United States, and strengthen the resolve of Catholics to contribute ever more responsibly to the life of this nation, of which they are proud to be citizens.

From the dawn of the Republic, America's quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator. The framers of this nation's founding documents drew upon this conviction when they proclaimed the self-evident truth that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights grounded in the laws of nature and of nature's God.

The course of American history demonstrates the difficulties, the struggles, and the great intellectual and moral resolve which were demanded to shape a society which faithfully embodied these noble principles. In that process, which forged the soul of the nation, religious beliefs were a constant inspiration and driving force, as for example in the struggle against slavery and in the civil rights movement. In our time, too, particularly in moments of crisis, Americans continue to find their strength in a commitment to this patrimony of shared ideas and aspirations.

In the next few days, I look forward to meeting not only with America's Catholic community, but with other Christian communities and representatives of the many religious traditions present in this country. Historically, not only Catholics, but all believers have found here the freedom to worship God in accordance with the dictates of their conscience, while at the same time being accepted as part of a commonwealth in which each individual group can make its voice heard.

As the nation faces the increasingly complex political and ethical issues of our time, I am confident that the American people will find in their religious beliefs a precious source of insight and an inspiration to pursue reasoned, responsible and respectful dialogue in the effort to build a more human and free society.

Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience — almost every town in this country has its monuments honoring those who sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad. The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good, and a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate. It also demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one's deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate.

In a word, freedom is ever new. It is a challenge held out to each generation, and it must constantly be won over for the cause of good. Few have understood this as clearly as the late Pope John Paul II. In reflecting on the spiritual victory of freedom over totalitarianism in his native Poland and in Eastern Europe, he reminded us that history shows time and again that "in a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation," and a democracy without values can lose its very soul. Those prophetic words in some sense echo the conviction of President Washington, expressed in his Farewell Address, that religion and morality represent "indispensable supports" of political prosperity.

The Church, for her part, wishes to contribute to building a world ever more worthy of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God. She is convinced that faith sheds new light on all things, and that the Gospel reveals the noble vocation and sublime destiny of every man and woman. Faith also gives us the strength to respond to our high calling and to hope that inspires us to work for an ever more just and fraternal society. Democracy can only flourish, as your founding fathers realized, when political leaders and those whom they represent are guided by truth and bring the wisdom born of firm moral principle to decisions affecting the life and future of the nation.

For well over a century, the United States of America has played an important role in the international community. On Friday, God willing, I will have the honor of addressing the United Nations organization, where I hope to encourage the efforts underway to make that institution an ever more effective voice for the legitimate aspirations of all the world's peoples.

On this, the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the need for global solidarity is as urgent as ever, if all people are to live in a way worthy of their dignity — as brothers and sisters dwelling in the same house and around that table which God's bounty has set for all his children. America has traditionally shown herself generous in meeting immediate human needs, fostering development and offering relief to the victims of natural catastrophes. I am confident that this concern for the greater human family will continue to find expression in support for the patient efforts of international diplomacy to resolve conflicts and promote progress. In this way, coming generations will be able to live in a world where truth, freedom and justice can flourish — a world where the God-given dignity and the rights of every man, women and child are cherished, protected and effectively advanced.

Mr. President, dear friends, as I begin my visit to the United States, I express once more my gratitude for your invitation, my joy to be in your midst, and my fervent prayers that Almighty God will confirm this nation and its people in the ways of justice, prosperity and peace. God bless America.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Greetings at the White House - Rpt #2

Pope calls for a more just society
Pontiff speaks at a birthday party held in his honor at the White House
MSNBC News Services
updated 8:34 a.m. PT, Wed., April. 16, 2008

WASHINGTON - Saying he had come as a friend of the United States, Pope Benedict XVI urged Americans and their leaders Wednesday to base their political and social decisions on moral principles and create a more just society.

In an address to President Bush at the White House on the first full day of his U.S. visit, the pope also called for "patient efforts of international diplomacy to resolve conflicts" and promote progress around the world.

"I come as a friend, a preacher of the Gospel and one with great respect for this vast pluralistic society," the pontiff said in a speech after Bush welcomed him to the White House at a ceremony that included 21-gun salute and the Marine Band playing the national anthem of the Holy See. More than 9,000 people, including several members of Bush's Cabinet, came to the ceremony, the largest in White House history.

The pope, marking his 81st birthday, was full of praise for American society, sprinkling his speech with references to the founding fathers — citing the Declaration of Independence and the first president, George Washington.

But he made no specific references to issues such as abortion and the war in Iraq, appearing at pains to avoid saying anything that could be seen as taking sides in the presidential campaign apart from saying that freedom called for "reasoned public debate."

Instead, the pope concentrated on America's religious roots, which he said were a driving force in a process that "forged the soul of the nation" and won the admiration of the world.
Bush: 'Life is sacred' "We need your message that all human life is sacred," Bush said in a speech welcoming the pontiff.

"In a world where some no longer believe that we can distinguish between simple right and wrong, we need your message to reject this dictatorship of relativism," he added.

Bush and his wife, Laura, stood on the driveway to welcome the pontiff as he stepped from his limousine. The pope greeted them with a two-handed handshake.

Wednesday was the first full day of the pope's first trip to the United States as leader of the world's Roman Catholics. He'll spend most of it at the White House.

On the way from Rome on Tuesday, Benedict said he was looking forward to meeting a "great people and a great church" during his first papal journey to the United States. The six-day trip to Washington and New York City coincides not just with his birthday, but the three-year anniversary of his ascendance to the Catholic church's top position.

Nurturing the U.S. flock is a sensitive and important mission for Benedict at a time not just of ongoing scandal but also of his campaign to tamp down secularism and re-ignite faith.

This get-together by Bush and Benedict is the 25th meeting between a Roman Catholic pope and a U.S. president, sessions that span 89 years, five pontiffs and 11 American leaders.

Private Oval Office meetingWhile Bush and Benedict have some points of agreement, they do disagree over the war in Iraq, the death penalty and the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.

Benedict also speaks for environmental protection and social welfare in ways that often run counter to Bush policies. And the pontiff told reporters on his plane that he planned to bring up immigration policy with Bush during their private Oval Office meeting. Benedict has talked forcefully in the past about the damage caused by punitive immigration laws.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said Bush would focus on areas of agreement, such as on expanding religious tolerance and containing violent extremism. She said shared concerns for Africa and Lebanon would be on the president's agenda.

Perino predicted that Iraq would not "dominate the conversation in any way." If it comes up, it's likely to be focused almost exclusively on the fears of the Christian minority in Muslim-majority Iraq, she said.

Another topic that will get cursory attention, if any, is the clergy sex abuse scandal that continues to devastate the American church. Perino called it not "necessarily on the president's top priorities" for the meeting.

Benedict chose to talk on the topic on his flight to the United States. Answering questions submitted to and selected by Vatican officials in advance, Benedict said he was "deeply ashamed" by the scandal and "will do everything possible to heal this wound."

No pope has been to the United States since the case of a Boston serial molester triggered a crisis that spread throughout the U.S. and beyond in 2002. Benedict's prayer service with U.S. bishops on Wednesday night at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception will be watched closely for how he addresses the issue. Because of the prayer service, the pope was not planning to attend a dinner in his honor at the White House.

Bush has courted the Catholic vote, about a quarter of the U.S. electorate, since his first presidential campaign, with some success. But though Bush has no more campaigns to run now, he is laying out the red carpet for the pontiff.

UnprecedentedThe president kicked off the unprecedented series of events by motoring to Andrews Air Force Base just outside Washington on Tuesday to meet Benedict's plane, something he's never done for any leader. The pontiff received a screaming, cheering reception befitting a rock star from the hundreds of Catholic students and others who filled bleachers on the tarmac while Bush, accompanied by his wife, Laura, and daughter Jenna, assumed the unusual role of second fiddle.

Wednesday's South Lawn audience for the pope's arrival, filled out by members of the Knights of Columbus and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, is expected to be the largest of Bush's presidency and among the largest ever at the White House. So many people have been invited, in fact, that many will only be able to see Bush and Benedict on a large television screen.

Soprano Kathleen Battle has been enlisted to sing "The Lord's Prayer" — a decision the White House defended as appropriate despite the overt insertion of religion into a public event. "I think we've struck the right balance," Perino said. "Many people across America and across the world say that prayer in order to provide themselves comfort and confidence in getting their day started."