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"Who can deny that the present moment is a crossroads, not only for the Church in America but also for society as a whole?"

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Zenit) - Benedict XVI says the world is at a crossroads between great promise for the future and the breakdown of the foundations of society, and Christians are called to give witness of their hope in this context.

The Pope affirmed this today to a crowd of 45,000 gathered in Washington Nationals stadium for at Mass in the U.S. capital.

"Before all else, I thank God for the blessing of being in your midst," the Holy Father said at the beginning of his homily.

Noting the 200th anniversary being marked by the first U.S. diocese, Baltimore, the Pontiff added, "The Church in America can rightfully praise the accomplishment of past generations in bringing together widely differing immigrant groups within the unity of the Catholic faith and in a common commitment to the spread of the Gospel."

"The Church in the United States is now called to look to the future," he said, "firmly grounded in the faith passed on by previous generations, and ready to meet new challenges -- challenges no less demanding than those faced by your forebears -- with the hope born of God's love, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit."

Benedict XVI encouraged the faithful in an "unceasing missionary outreach," saying that he prays that "this significant anniversary in the life of the Church in the United States, and the presence of the Successor of Peter in your midst, will be an occasion for all Catholics to reaffirm their unity in the apostolic faith, to offer their contemporaries a convincing account of the hope which inspires them and to be renewed in missionary zeal for the extension of God's Kingdom."

He continued: "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? It is a time of great promise, as we see the human family in many ways drawing closer together and becoming ever more interdependent. Yet at the same time we see clear signs of a disturbing breakdown in the very foundations of society: signs of alienation, anger and polarization on the part of many of our contemporaries; increased violence; a weakening of the moral sense; a coarsening of social relations; and a growing forgetfulness of God.

"The Church, too, sees signs of immense promise in her many strong parishes and vital movements, in the enthusiasm for the faith shown by so many young people, in the number of those who each year embrace the Catholic faith, and in a greater interest in prayer and catechesis.

At the same time she senses, often painfully, the presence of division and polarization in her midst, as well as the troubling realization that many of the baptized, rather than acting as a spiritual leaven in the world, are inclined to embrace attitudes contrary to the truth of the Gospel."

Hope

Benedict XVI characterized Americans as a "people of hope." In this context, he again mentioned the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Church in the United States a few years ago.

"It is in the context of this hope born of God's love and fidelity that I acknowledge the pain which the Church in America has experienced as a result of the sexual abuse of minors," he said.

"No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse. It is important that those who have suffered be given loving pastoral attention. Nor can I adequately describe the damage that has occurred within the community of the Church.

"Today I encourage each of you to do what you can to foster healing and reconciliation, and to assist those who have been hurt. Also, I ask you to love your priests, and to affirm them in the excellent work that they do. And above all, pray that the Holy Spirit will pour out his gifts upon the Church, the gifts that lead to conversion, forgiveness and growth in holiness."

Commenting on the Gospel of today's Mass, the Holy Father also encouraged a renewal in the sacrament of confession.

"Let us trust in the Spirit's power to inspire conversion, to heal every wound, to overcome every division, and to inspire new life and freedom," he said.

"How much we need these gifts! And how close at hand they are, particularly in the sacrament of penance! 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.

"To a great extent, the renewal of the Church in America depends on the renewal of the practice of penance and the growth in holiness which that sacrament both inspires and accomplishes."

The Pontiff concluded the homily with a few words in Spanish.

"The Church in the United States, welcoming in its bosom so many of its immigrant children, has been growing also thanks to the vitality of the testimony of faith from Spanish-speaking faithful," he said.

"For this, the Lord calls you to continue contributing to the future of the Church in this country and the spreading of the Gospel.

Only if you are united to Christ and among yourselves, will your evangelizing testimony be credible and bloom with copious fruits of peace and reconciliation in the midst of a world many times marked by division and conflicts."

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