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Celebration of Vespers and Meeting With Bishops

Pope Benedict Meets With the U.S. Bishops

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On the evening of his 81st birthday, April 16, 2008, during his first visit to United States, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated vespers (evening prayer) and met with the bishops of the United States. At the event, held at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, on the campus of The Catholic University of America in northeast Washington, D.C., the Holy Father gave a public address to his brother bishops, answered questions from the bishops, and presented a chalice to Archbishop Alfred Hughes, the archbishop of New Orleans, before retiring for the night.

Pope Benedict's Address to the U.S. Bishops

Pope Benedict XVI Addresses the Bishops of the United States (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
In his address, the Holy Father developed themes that he had discussed at the White House Welcoming Ceremony earlier in the day. He had expressed his desire that his visit would lead to a "renewal of the Church in America"; now, he noted that "American Catholics are noted for their loyal devotion to the see of Peter. My pastoral visit here is an opportunity to strengthen further the bonds of communion that unite us." He recalled the bicentennial of the establishment of the dioceses of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Louisville, as well as "the elevation of the founding see of Baltimore to an Archdiocese," and noted the efforts of the first bishop of Baltimore, John Carroll, which "enabled the Church in America to grow to maturity."

The Church in America, Yesterday and Today

U.S. Bishops Listen to Pope Benedict XVI (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
"Today," Pope Benedict told the U.S. bishops, "the Catholic community you serve is one of the largest in the world, and one of the most influential. How important it is, then, to let your light so shine before your fellow citizens and before the world, 'that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.'" Recalling the immigrant origins of the Catholic Church in America, he urged the bishops to "continue to welcome the immigrants who join your ranks today, to share their joys and hopes, to support them in their sorrows and trials, and to help them flourish in their new home." He noted that America's tradition of religious freedom "has contributed to this country's attraction for generations of immigrants."

Praise for Eastern Catholics in America

Pope Benedict XVI With the Papal Staff (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
In this context, the Holy Father mentioned especially Eastern Rite Catholics, whose history both here and in their European homelands has been tumultuous. (Many Eastern Rite parishes became Eastern Orthodox in the 1930's, after the Vatican ban married priests among the Eastern Rites in the United States.) "Your presence here," Pope Benedict said, addressing the Eastern Rite bishops, "is a reminder of the courageous witness to Christ of so many members of your communities, often amid suffering, in their respective homelands. It is also a great enrichment of the ecclesial life of America, giving vivid expression to the Church’s catholicity and the variety of her liturgical and spiritual traditions."

Stumbling Blocks to the Gospel

Pope Benedict XVI Prays (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Declaring America "a land of great faith," the Holy Father also noted that "the subtle influence of secularism can nevertheless color the way people allow their faith to influence their behavior" and called on the bishops "to sow the seeds of the Gospel today." Our faith cannot be compartmentalized: "Is it consistent to profess our beliefs in church on Sunday, and then during the week to promote business practices or medical procedures contrary to those beliefs? Is it consistent for practicing Catholics to ignore or exploit the poor and the marginalized, to promote sexual behavior contrary to Catholic moral teaching, or to adopt positions that contradict the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death?"

Transforming Our Lives Through Faith, Not Materialism

Pope Benedict XVI Offers Blessing at Vespers in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
"Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted," the Holy Father continued. "Only when their faith permeates every aspect of their lives do Christians become truly open to the transforming power of the Gospel." Materialism can distract us from eternal salvation. "People today need to be reminded of the ultimate purpose of their lives. . . . Without God, who alone bestows upon us what we by ourselves cannot attain, our lives are ultimately empty." Our "deepest needs" cannot be fulfilled through science and technology, but only by the love of God.

Freedom and Autonomy Versus Responsibility and Community

Pope Benedict XVI Meets With the Bishops of the United States (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
American secularism also tends to place too much emphasis on "personal freedom and autonomy," and hence "it is easy to lose sight of our dependence on others as well as the responsibilities that we bear towards them." The Church is not a collection of individuals, but a "redeemed community." Recalling that God made Eve so that Adam would not be alone, the Holy Father noted that "We were created as social beings who find fulfillment only in love--for God and for our neighbor." Such ideas are not fashionable today, but, he instructed the bishops, "If this seems counter-cultural, that is simply further evidence of the urgent need for a renewed evangelization of culture."

Date and Time

April 16, 5:45 P.M. EDT

Official Text of Pope Benedict's Address to the U.S. Bishops

The official text of Pope Benedict XVI's address to the U.S. bishops at the celebration of vespers in the crypt church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, 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

Pope Benedict XVI and the Crowd at Nationals Stadium (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
(Photo by Win McNamee/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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