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Pope Benedict's Mass in Washington, D.C.

Mass at the Washington Nationals Stadium

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Pope Benedict XVI's itinerary for April 17, 2008, began with a public Mass in Washington, D.C.'s baseball stadium, Nationals Park. Four choirs performed, as well as tenor Placido Domingo, who knelt before the Holy Father and kissed his ring after singing the "Panis Angelicus." Despite Pope Benedict's often-expressed views on the need for dignity in sacred music, much of the music was contemporary.

In addition to 46,000 faithful who packed the 41,000-seat stadium, 14 cardinals, 250 bishops, and 1,300 priests were in attendance, as well as an unspecified number of nuns, many in traditional habits.

Confession and Communion

Pope Benedict XVI Elevates the Host at Mass in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Confessionals were set up throughout the stadium, and the Washington Times reported that "Lines at the booths were 20 deep by 7 a.m." In marked contrast to Masses held during previous papal visits to the United States (as well as common practice in American Catholic parishes), no extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist were used. Instead, Communion was distributed by 300 priests and deacons, stationed throughout the stadium. The entire crowd received Communion in under 20 minutes.

The decision may have come from the Holy Father himself, who has been critical of the practice, common in American parishes, of overusing Eucharistic ministers.

Pope Benedict's Homily

Pope Benedict's homily lasted nearly 15 minutes, and, in honor of the large Hispanic attendance at the Mass, ended with a few paragraphs in Spanish summing up what the Holy Father had said in English. As many as one third of America's 66 million Catholics are Hispanics.

The Holy Father began by reminding the faithful that we are still in the midst of the Easter season and then recalled the bicentenary of the establishment of the dioceses of Boston, Louisville, New York, and Philadelphia, and the elevation of Baltimore to an archdiocese. "The Church in the United States," he declared, "is now called to look to the future, firmly grounded in the faith passed on by previous generations, and ready to meet new challenges."

A Call for Renewal and Reconciliation

At the White House and in his meeting with the U.S. bishops, Pope Benedict had expressed his hope that his visit would lead to a renewal of the Catholic Church in the United States. He repeated that message now: "I have come to America to confirm you, my brothers and sisters, in the faith of the Apostles." As we head toward Pentecost, the Holy Father declared that "I have come to repeat the Apostle [Peter]’s urgent call to conversion and the forgiveness of sins, and to implore from the Lord a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church in this country," that Catholics in America might "bring to men and women of every race, language and people the good news of our reconciliation with God in Christ."

True Repentance

Confessions Plaza Sign at Papal Mass in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Pointing to Romans 8, Pope Benedict spoke of prayer--"groanings"--"inspired by the Spirit," to enable us to suffer, if need be, for the truth. "With this prayer, may the Church in America embrace ever more fully the way of conversion and fidelity to the demands of the Gospel."

Conversion requires repentance, and the Holy Father declared that "The liberating power of this sacrament, in which our honest confession of sin is met by God’s merciful word of pardon and peace, needs to be rediscovered and reappropriated by every Catholic. . . . the renewal of the Church in America and throughout the world depends on the renewal of the practice of Penance and the growth in holiness which that sacrament both inspires and accomplishes."

Witnessing to the Truth

Aerial View of Papal Mass at Washington Nationals Stadium (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Renewal, however, requires all Catholics to conform themselves to the teachings of the Church, in order "to offer their contemporaries a convincing account of the hope which inspires them." The need for renewal is urgent, because "The world needs this witness! Who can deny that the present moment is a crossroads, not only for the Church in America but also for society as a whole?" Reminding the faithful of the work of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Father called all to pray "that the Church in America will be renewed in that same Spirit, and sustained in her mission of proclaiming the Gospel to a world that longs for genuine freedom (cf. Jn 8:32), authentic happiness, and the fulfillment of its deepest aspirations!"

Date and Time

April 17, 10:00 A.M. EDT

Official Text of Pope Benedict's Homily at the Mass at Washington Nationals Park

Official text of the homily delivered by Pope Benedict XVI at his public Mass at Washington Nationals Stadium, from the Vatican's website.

Schedule of Pope Benedict's 2008 Visit to the United States

View the details for all of the significant events during Pope Benedict's April 2008 visit to the United States.

Photo Gallery of Pope Benedict's 2008 Visit to the United States

Children Welcome Pope Benedict to White House
(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Relive the stops along Pope Benedict XVI's April 2008 apostolic journey to the United States and follow the Holy Father as he visits Washington, D.C., and New York City. Check back often for new photos!
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