A historic journey: there could be no more fitting description of the Visit to the United States which Benedict XVI has just made, even if it is obviously too soon to evaluate it effectively.
Journalistic comments already abound, first of all in America, but it is not easy to pick out an overall theme apart from, precisely, the importance of this Visit, packed with events and symbols: from the special welcome the Holy Father was given by President George W. Bush himself as soon as he arrived on American soil to the extraordinary one at the White House, from the Address to the United Nations General Assembly to the moving silent prayer at Ground Zero, in a cold, grey atmosphere that suddenly, after some glorious Spring days, seemed to blend with the memory of the terrible abyss that opened on 11 September 2001 and the profound recollection, which alone could confront the tragedy, of the prayer that the Pope then addressed to the Creator.
However, the Visit to the American Church by the Bishop of Rome was indeed rich and rewarding. How can one forget the splendid, carefully prepared liturgies that punctuated Benedict XVI's days in America? At these celebrations Gregorian chant and polyphony in Latin mingled evocatively with solemn and joyful hymns in different languages, accompanied also by trumpets and drums, thereby stressing the continuity and vitality of the Catholic liturgical tradition: from the evening prayer with all the Country's Bishops at the National Shrine in Washington, to the solemn Masses.
Mass was celebrated in St Patrick's Cathedral, New York, of course, but also in the stadiums of two famous baseball teams, the Nationals in the Federal Capital and the Yankees in New York, in the Bronx, home of the mythical Joe DiMaggio, who was in the habit of thanking God for making him a Yankee.
Precisely in these two stadiums, transformed into immense churches, but also in the grounds of St Joseph's Seminary, overflowing with young enthusiasts, and on the streets of New York - where thousands of people gathered, anxious to see the Pope even for a moment every time he passed - the Pope felt physically the closeness of American Catholics in a plural communion of very different languages and cultures. And the greeting of the United Nations staff - whom Benedict XVI met with after delivering his Discourse to the Representatives of almost 200 Countries and after receiving repeated waves of applause - was also striking, as well as the Meeting, as simple as it was cordial and moving, with the Jewish Community in the New York Park East Synagogue which reminded the Pope of the Synagogue in Nazareth, where the young Jesus was educated and was called to explain the Scriptures.
Thus, with his Journey, Benedict XVI desired to express his friendship with the United States, a great secular Country through love of religion, but also to celebrate a solid and very lively Catholicism despite such grave difficulties as those which have resulted from the scandal of the sexual abuse of many minors by men of the Church; a matter - also to a certain extent exploited - for which the Pope several times declared his painful incredulity and shame, which he also expressed in person to some of the victims.
It is a Catholicism that in a little more than two centuries has become increasingly important and influential in the communion of the Church and has certainly been endorsed and invigorated by the Bishop of Rome.
It is a Catholicism that in its turn has supported Benedict XVI, as he himself wished to declare to the Catholic channel of the Sirius Satellite Radio of New York: I have come "to strengthen my brothers and sisters in the faith, but I now have to say that American Catholics are strengthening me in my own faith".
Looking at Christ, whose hope - and this has been seen in these days in America - is in the heart of every human being.
St. Peter’s Square
Sept. 15, 2019
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