"I will never forget", he said, "with how much warmth they congratulated me for the third anniversary of my election to the See of Peter. It was a moving moment, in which I particularly felt the support of all the Church for my ministry."
VATICAN CITY (VIS) - In today's general audience, which was held in St. Peter's Square, the Pope dedicated his remarks to his recent apostolic trip to the U.S.A. and the headquarters of the United Nations, from 15 to 21 April.
After recalling how the motive for his U.S. visit was the bi-centenary of the elevation of the country's first diocese, Baltimore, to the status of metropolitan archdiocese, and the foundation of the sees of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Louisville, the Holy Father affirmed that his aim had been "to announce to everyone the message that 'Christ is our Hope', the phrase which was the theme of my visit".
During the meeting with President George Bush in the White House, said the Pope, "I had the opportunity to pay homage to that great country, which from its beginnings was built on the foundation of a harmonious union between religious, ethical and political principles, and which still constitutes a valid example of healthy laicism, where the religious dimension, in the diversity of its expressions, is not only tolerated but turned to advantage as the 'soul' of the nation and the fundamental guarantee of the rights and duties of human beings".
The Holy Father then went on to explain that he had supported his "brother bishops in their difficult task of spreading the Gospel in a society marked by no small number of contradictions, which also threaten the coherence of Catholics and even of the clergy. I encouraged them to make their voices heard on the moral and social questions of the day, and to form the lay faithful so they become good 'leavening' in the civil community on the base of that fundamental cell which is the family. In this context, I exhorted them to re- present the Sacrament of Marriage as a gift and an indissoluble commitment between a man and a woman, the natural environment in which to welcome and educate children.
"The Church and the family, as well as schools", the Pope added, "must co- operate in offering young people a solid moral education. ... Reflecting upon the painful question of sexual abuse of minors by ordained ministers, I told the bishops of my closeness, and encouraged them in the task of binding wounds and strengthening their relationships with their priests".
During the Eucharistic celebration held in the Nationals Stadium in Washington, said Pope Benedict, "we evoked the Holy Spirit" upon the Church in America that she "may face current and future challenges with courage and hope". And when meeting with representatives of other religions "in what may be considered as the homeland of religious freedom, I recalled how such freedom must be defended with congruous efforts to avoid all forms of discrimination and prejudice. I also highlighted the great responsibility religious leaders have, both in teaching respect and non-violence and in upholding the deepest questions of the human conscience".
On the subject of his visit to U.N. headquarters in New York, the Pope pointed out that "providence gave me the opportunity to confirm" - on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - "the importance of that Charter, recalling its universal foundation, in other words the dignity of the person who was created by God in His image and likeness in order to co- operate in ... His great plan of life and peace".
In St. Patrick's Cathedral the Pope had celebrated Mass for priests and consecrated people. "I will never forget", he said, "with how much warmth they congratulated me for the third anniversary of my election to the See of Peter. It was a moving moment, in which I particularly felt the support of all the Church for my ministry. And I could say the same about my meeting with young people and seminarians".
At Ground Zero "I lit a candle and prayed for all the victims of the terrible tragedy" of 11 September 2001, said the Pope. And he concluded his reminiscences of his U.S. visit with the Eucharistic celebration in New York's Yankee Stadium which he described as "a feast of faith and of brotherhood. ... To that Church which now faces the challenges of the present time, I had the joy of announcing "Christ our Hope', yesterday, today and forever".
Prior to the audience, the Pope blessed a statue of St. John Leonardi (1541- 1609), founder of the Clerks Regular of the Mother of God, which has been placed in a niche on the exterior wall of the Vatican Basilica. On 8 august 2006, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, by virtue of the powers granted by Benedict XVI, proclaimed him patron saint of pharmacists.
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