SCRANTON – The Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, will be the principal celebrant of a Mass for the intention of the happy repose of the soul of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at the Cathedral of Saint Peter, the Mother Church of the Diocese of Scranton, on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, at 12:10 p.m.
All people of goodwill are invited to participate in the Mass in person as our diocese mourns the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who died in the morning Dec. 31 at his residence at the Vatican. He was 95.
The Diocesan Memorial Mass for Pope Emeritus Benedict will be broadcast live on CTV: Catholic Television of the Diocese of Scranton. A livestream will be also be provided on the Diocese of Scranton website, Diocese of Scranton YouTube channel and across all Diocesan social media platforms.
The Cathedral of Saint Peter is located at 315 Wyoming Avenue, Scranton, PA 18503.
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Keeping his appointment to celebrate vespers as 2022 was ending, Pope Francis also paid tribute to his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who died early Dec. 31.
“At this moment, our thoughts go spontaneously to our dearest Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who left us this morning,” Pope Francis told thousands of people joining him in St. Peter’s Basilica for the evening prayer service.
“With emotion we remember him as such a noble, such a gentle person,” the pope said. “And we feel so much gratitude in our hearts: gratitude to God for having given him to the church and to the world; gratitude to him, for all the good he accomplished, particularly for his witness of faith and prayer, especially in these last years of his retired life.”
“Only God knows the value and strength of his intercession and his sacrifices offered for the good of the church,” Pope Francis said of the 95-year-old Pope Benedict, who had spent almost 10 years in retirement in a monastery in the Vatican Gardens.
The prayers of the faithful also included special mention of the deceased Pope Benedict, asking God to allow him to see Jesus face to face.
In the main section of his homily, Pope Francis focused on kindness and gentleness as both a religious and a civic virtue.
With the Christmas season still underway and the basilica’s Christmas decorations still in place, Pope Francis said that Jesus “did not come into the world swooping down from heaven; he was born of Mary.”
Jesus became human “with her consent; in freedom, in gratuitousness, in respect, in love,” the pope said.
Focusing specifically on the Diocese of Rome, his diocese, Pope Francis urged citizens to cultivate kindness in their relationships with each other.
“Kindness is an important factor in the culture of dialogue,” he said, “and dialogue is indispensable if we are to live in peace, as brothers and sisters, who do not always get along – that is normal – but who nevertheless talk to each other, listen to each other and try to understand and meet each other.”
Kindness is not just politeness, he said, it is a virtue that can “humanize our societies.”
“Kindness is an antidote against some of the pathologies of our societies: against cruelty, which unfortunately can creep in like a poison in the heart and intoxicate relationships,” he said, and also “against distracted anxiety and frenzy that make us focus on ourselves and close us off to others.”
Too often, the pope said, people get caught up in their own lives and do not realize how aggressive they are and how they stop asking “please,” or saying “sorry” or “thank you.”
“Peace progresses with those three words,” he said. “It would be good for us to think about using ‘please,’ ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you’ often.”
Pope Francis said his wish for the new year would be that everyone try harder to be kind.
“Experience teaches us that if it becomes a way of life, it can create healthy coexistence,” he said, and “it can humanize social relationships by dissolving aggression and indifference.”
After the service, Pope Francis joined thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square to admire, and stop to pray, in front of the Nativity scene.
Upon learning of the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on Dec. 31, 2022, the Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, offered the following statement:
“On behalf of the clergy, religious and faithful of the Diocese of Scranton, I join people around the world in offering prayers and sympathy on the passing of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
“Pope Emeritus Benedict will always be remembered as a great theologian-pope, not just because of the three encyclicals he wrote, but because of the intellectual precision he brought to all of his work, helping us to encounter God’s love and truth. For example, in Spe Salvi, (In hope we were saved), he beautifully stated that God is our foundation of hope, and it is his love alone that gives us the possibility of soberly persevering day by day.
“In addition to being a strong supporter of the Church in America, Benedict truly believed in fostering Christian unity as a fundamental priority of the worldwide Church. From dialoging with Lutherans to his work with Anglicans, he made many efforts to see Christians fully united.
“We give thanks to the Father for the great gift of Benedict as a priest, bishop, cardinal and Successor to Saint Peter. While much has been written about his historic renunciation, Benedict’s actions showed great humility, selflessness and courage as he determined he no longer had the physical strength for the demands of the papacy.
“On a personal level, I thank Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI for the trust and confidence he had in me when appointing me the tenth bishop of the Diocese of Scranton in February 2010. I will always treasure the opportunity to witness his humanity and devotion to Christ the following year during my first ad limina visit to the Vatican.
“I ask the people of the Diocese of Scranton to offer prayers for the peaceful repose of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s soul. May God grant him the gift of eternal life and bring comfort to those who mourn his passing.”
A special Diocesan Memorial Mass for the Pope Emeritus will be scheduled at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton. Bishop Bambera will be the principal celebrant and homilist. Details will be announced when they are available.
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – During his many years at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as well as during his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI made incisive contributions to the search for Christian unity, although some of his teaching also was read as ecumenically insensitive.
While the late pope forged strong bonds of friendship and esteem with the leaders of the world’ s Orthodox and Anglican Christians, his papacy also coincided with a difficult time in the search for full Christian unity.
In the face of new obstacles to ecumenism — particularly regarding the ministry of women, attitudes toward homosexuality and differences on ethical issues — Pope Benedict often emphasized the role of prayer in seeking Christian unity, as well as the need for divided Christians to work together to protect religious freedom and defend traditional Christian values.
From personal experience and theological study, his longest ecumenical engagement came in the area of Catholic-Lutheran relations.
Shortly after Pope Benedict resigned in 2013, the Rev. Nikolaus Schneider, then head of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, told reporters at the Vatican how important the contributions of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger were for the landmark 1999 Catholic-Lutheran theological agreement on justification, the dispute at the heart of the Protestant Reformation. Rev. Schneider also described as “historic” Pope Benedict’ s decision in 2011 to visit the former Augustinian monastery where Luther lived until 1511.
The visit, though, left many German Lutherans disappointed. Somehow in the weeks before the visit, people started talking about the possibility that Pope Benedict either would lift the 500-year-old excommunication of Martin Luther or would make it much easier for a Lutheran married to a Catholic to receive Communion in the Catholic Church.
Neither happened. But Pope Benedict knew of the expectations and, in the monastery where Luther had lived, the pope said conjecture about him making an “ecumenical gift” demonstrated a “political misreading of faith and of ecumenism.”
Progress in Christian unity is not like negotiating a treaty, he told his fellow Germans. Ecumenism will advance when Christians enter more deeply into their shared faith and profess it more openly in society, Pope Benedict said.
But Rev. Schneider also told reporters the German-born pope “offended” Protestants when, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in 2000 he insisted Protestant communities were not “churches in the proper sense” because they have not preserved apostolic succession among their bishops nor a traditional understanding of the mystery of the Eucharist.
Then-Cardinal Ratzinger repeatedly explained that the assertion in the document “Dominus Iesus” was simply a statement of Catholic belief, not a judgment of others. But particularly because the doctrinal congregation reviewed every joint ecumenical statement before publication, the statement cast a pall over the church’ s dialogue with other Christian communities for several years.
For Catholics coming from the Anglican tradition, the ecumenical highlight of Pope Benedict’ s pontificate was his decision in 2009 to establish personal ordinariates, jurisdictions similar to dioceses, which recognize their full communion with Rome while preserving some of their Anglican heritage.
But for many ecumenists, the move was not about Christian unity at all. Rather it was simply a pastoral provision for individuals and groups who, in conscience and after long prayer, sought full communion with Rome while not wanting to leave behind their spiritual, theological and liturgical heritage.
Even when ecumenical progress seemed slow, though, Pope Benedict continued to preach the importance of Christian unity and to recognize the duty of the pope to be its chief proponent.
After celebrating Mass April 20, 2005, in the Sistine Chapel with the cardinals who elected him pope the evening before, Pope Benedict, referring to himself, said he would assume as “his primary commitment that of working tirelessly toward the reconstitution of the full and visible unity of all Christ’ s followers. This is his ambition, this is his compelling duty.”
There was a time – it encompassed most of the 1980s – that Catholic publishers weren’t very interested in what the largely unknown Father Joseph Ratzinger of Germany had to say about Christian morality, the mystery of the heart of Christ, the role of religion in post-Marxist Europe or, for that matter, any other topic.
U.S. Jesuit Father Joseph Fessio was an exception. The California priest had already become convinced of the highly academic German priest’s ability to synthesize Christian truth and complex theological issues and express them succinctly, as well as in a way that encouraged deep reflection and meditation.
By intention and providential design, Ignatius Press, established by Father Fessio in 1978, became the sole English-language publisher of the pre-papal books and the biography of the man who was elected Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.
“We knew we wanted to publish translations of fine European theologians like Ratzinger, Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar and others,” Father Fessio told Catholic News Service before the retired pope’s death Dec. 31. “It was kind of a golden age of Catholic theology, in the mid-20th century. But their works were rarely translated into English. That was our mission.”
Pope Benedict’s body of writings will be his legacy, said Father Fessio. Ignatius Press pledges to keep his core writings in print.
“He will be not only a saint but a doctor of the church someday,” Father Fessio predicted.
Father Fessio gained a deep-seated admiration of Father Ratzinger in the early 1970s, while pursuing a doctorate in theology at the University of Regensburg, in what was then West Germany. His thesis, “The Ecclesiology of Hans Urs von Balthasar,” was directed by Father Ratzinger, his professor and mentor.
During that process, he also gleaned an appreciation of his mentor’s great intelligence.
“We had these seminars with theological and doctoral students– maybe seven or eight of us — and he’d be directing the seminar. They’d last about two hours, and he’d make sure everyone had his chance to speak. He would ask people what they thought about this or that, and at the end, he would sum up the whole seminar in just a few very long, German sentences. He had a tremendous power of synthesis. He listened so well. He grasped things immediately, and he organized them very organically,” said Father Fessio.
The Jesuit said that later, when then-Cardinal Ratzinger oversaw the writing of the “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” he saw the same qualities.
“He had the tremendous ability to understand what others were saying and writing,” Father Fessio added. “He could be critical, but he was fair, and then he would present what he thought was a more accurate view of things.
“He really had a serene and humble insight. He was such a great person and had a great mind.”
After graduation, Father Fessio began to participate in the annual three-day-long reunions of his mentor’s “Schulerkreis,” or group of former students. Father Ratzinger, meanwhile, was named the archbishop of Munich and Freising, and soon afterward, a cardinal.
In 1989, under Cardinal Ratzinger’s tutelage, Father Fessio and three others were instrumental in forming a house in Rome called Casa Balthasar — a place of discernment for young men and women. The house took its inspiration from the life and works of Adrienne von Speyr and two highly regarded theologians: Jesuit Father Lubac, whom St. John Paul elevated to cardinal in 1983, and Father von Balthasar, named a cardinal by St. John Paul II in 1988.
At the time Casa Balthasar was established, Cardinal Ratzinger had been appointed prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith by St. John Paul II. He became cardinal-protector of the home and remained involved with Casa Balthasar into the beginning of his papacy.
Pope Benedict’s capacity to understand, summarize and evaluate extended beyond the great theological discussions for which is he was known, said Father Fessio. “It was philosophy, literature, history, art, music — all these things that make up the so-called humanities. He was immersed in and interested in all these things.”
“He had a warm and wonderful sense of humor. It would come up all the time,” Father Fessio added. “He would grasp the irony of things.”
When members of the Schulerkreis would gather with him to pray, celebrate Mass and share meals and engage in discussion, not all the discussions were of an ecclesial nature. But Pope Benedict could speak to them all.
“He was a great listener and conversationalist, always with a warm sense of humor. He has done all things well. He was a wonderful orator and speaker, preacher, writer and thinker.”
Father Fessio also said the late pope’s great love for the church was always evident.
“His insistence on the continuity of the church before and after Vatican Council — that was an important part of his papacy. In fact, he emphasized that in the very first talk he gave when he was made pope. He was elected around 6:30 at night, and the next morning at 9:30 he gave a talk in Latin, which he himself wrote without any help, and he made it very clear that he was a pope of the council — but that we had to see the council not as a rupture from previous church teaching, but rather in continuity with it.”
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – In trying to help people understand how belief in God is a natural part of life and provides grounding for the values that protect human dignity and peaceful coexistence, the late Pope Benedict XVI saw Jews and Muslims as natural allies.
But in the almost eight years of his pontificate, his relations with the Jewish and Muslim communities were marked by alternating tensions and new initiatives.
During his pontificate, Pope Benedict visited synagogues in three countries and mosques in three others.
However, despite his efforts to promote new forms of dialogue with the followers of Islam, in the field of Catholic-Muslim dialogue, many people remember Pope Benedict primarily for remarks about the prophet Muhammad in a 2006 speech.
His relationship with the world’s Jewish communities was not always smooth either, primarily because of his decision in 2009 to lift the excommunication of a traditionalist bishop who denied the extent of the Holocaust.
When some 300 religious leaders joined him in Assisi, Italy, in October 2011 to mark the 25th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s prayer for peace meeting, Pope Benedict said that as more and more people become convinced religion is a major source of tension in the world, religious believers have to be honest about their communities’ past and present.
“As a Christian I want to say at this point: Yes, it is true, in the course of history, force has also been used in the name of the Christian faith. We acknowledge it with great shame. But it is utterly clear that this was an abuse of the Christian faith, one that evidently contradicts its true nature,” he told the religious leaders.
At the same time, he insisted that history also has shown the danger of denying God’s existence, because “when man no longer recognizes any criterion or any judge above himself,” he feels free to unleash his fury to obtain what he wants.
Jewish leaders praised Pope Benedict’s record on dialogue in several respects: He explicitly recognized that a special bond continues to exist between God and the Jewish people; he recognized that, for centuries, Christians used Jesus’ death as an excuse to denigrate — and even persecute — the Jews; and he understood that the contempt some Christians had for the Jews helped create an atmosphere that the Nazis easily and progressively manipulated to the point of killing 6 million Jews.
And while his lifting of the excommunication of traditionalist Bishop Richard Williamson, a Holocaust denier, caused real consternation, Pope Benedict said with gratitude that Jewish leaders were more willing than many Catholics to accept the Vatican’s statement that it had not known of the bishop’s position on the Holocaust.
Muslim leaders were less clear about where Pope Benedict stood with regard to their faith, although he repeatedly reached out to open lines of communication and promote cooperation on social issues of concern to both Catholics and Muslims.
When Pope Benedict visited Istanbul’s Blue Mosque in 2006, he took off his shoes and stood in silent meditation with his arms folded in the same manner as the imam praying next to him. This was read by many Muslims as a sign of deep respect and as a gesture that ran directly counter to a speech he had made two months earlier at the University of Regensburg, Germany.
In the Regensburg speech, the pope had quoted a medieval Byzantine emperor, who said Muhammad had brought “things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread the faith by the sword.” The pope afterward explained that he was not endorsing the emperor’s words, and he expressed regret that some Muslims were hurt by the remarks.
In reaction, 138 Muslim scholars from around the world launched an initiative called “A Common Word,” writing to Pope Benedict and other Christian leaders asking for a serious dialogue about values Christians and Muslims hold in common: the obligation to love God and to love one another.
Representatives of the 138 scholars met at the Vatican to establish the Catholic-Muslim Forum in 2008.
In the 2010 book, “Light of the World,” Pope Benedict said Catholics and Muslims have two basic things in common: “We both defend major religious values — faith in God and obedience to God — and we both need to situate ourselves correctly in modernity.”
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Like any bona fide cat lover, Pope Benedict XVI’s face would light up and his hand would reach out at the sight of a fluffy feline — even when that soft bundle of fur was a squirming, feisty lion cub brought to the Vatican by visiting circus performers.
His comments about how animals must be respected as “companions in creation” earned him high marks with animal welfare groups, including the Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
As cats are known to sense approaching cat lovers, Vatican kitties would apparently swarm around him.
For example, one day after celebrating Mass at a small church near St. Peter’s Basilica, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger went to the church’s cemetery, which was full of cats, Konrad Baumgartner, an eyewitness and theologian, told Knight Ridder in 2005. “They all ran to him. They knew him and loved him.”
A fellow cardinal who worked under the future pope at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith portrayed him as a kind of Dr. Doolittle.
“I tried to understand the language he used with cats, who were always enchanted when they met him. I thought maybe it was a Bavarian dialect, but I don’t know,” Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone told Vatican Radio in 2005.
While the pope never owned a cat, it was reported he fed the strays that lurked around the building he lived in as a cardinal in Rome.
Being pope, however, prevented him from such daily encounters. And yet he kept a white ceramic cat — crouched next to a silver icon of Our Lady — on his large desk in the papal apartments.
He and his brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, also collected plates with images of cats.
His love for creatures and nature, the pope said, came from growing up in the Bavarian countryside.
In the small town of Aschau am Inn, his childhood home, “I experienced the beauty of creation,” he said. He would hike and bike the surrounding hills and mountains and play with the many animals his neighbors kept.
“I even herded cows,” which “brought me closer to nature, and it was important for me to have had this first experience with God’s creatures and to bond with animals,” he said.
When he later built a home in Pentling, near Regensburg, he became fast friends with the neighbor’s orange cat, Chico, who often wandered into his garden.
The neighbor, Rupert Hofbauer, said he also had a dog, Igor, who frequented the garden, “but the cardinal prefers Chico. There are dog and cat people in the world, and he is definitely a cat person.”
When Chico’s friend became famous as pope, the German “katz” became the ersatz narrator of a papal biography in the children’s book, “Joseph and Chico: The Life of Pope Benedict XVI as Told by a Cat.”
After the pope’s retirement, living at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in the Vatican Gardens meant moving to kitty haven.
The good number of friendly, well cared for cats in the area — including Contessina, an often-photographed black-and-white female — meant finally being back among his feline friends.
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The late Pope Benedict XVI’s disgust over the abuse scandals marring the church was made evident even before his election as pope.
In his forceful Way of the Cross meditations, drafted in the weeks before his election as pope in 2005, he wrote for the world to hear: “How much filth there is in the church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him.”
That straightforward attitude, coupled with sympathy for victims and commitment to prevention, marked much of the pope’s subsequent eight years as pope.
“Pope Benedict XVI will certainly be remembered for his extraordinary reply and response to the very sad phenomenon of sexual abuse of minors by the clergy,” Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta once told Vatican Radio. The archbishop was promoter of justice at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, handling accusations of clerical sex abuse from 2002 to 2012.
Pope Benedict’s approach to the scandal was to see it as a result of serious sin that polluted the church; the process of cleansing must be serious and profound, he said, but it also must acknowledge Christ’s power to heal and to strengthen the church.
Although he mostly stayed out of public view in retirement, in April 2019, the former pope published what he described as “notes” on the abuse crisis, tracing the roots of the scandal to a loss of a firm faith and moral certainty that began in the 1960s. The church’s response, he insisted, must focus on a recovery of a sense of faith and of right and wrong.
Late into his retirement, he faced renewed criticism after the release of a report in early 2022 that looked at how known cases of sexual abuse against minors were handled in the Archdiocese of Munich from 1945 to 2019. The study, conducted by a law firm for the archdiocese, said then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger mishandled abuse allegations on four occasions during his time as archbishop of Munich and Freising, from 1977 to 1982. The pope and a small team of legal experts denied wrongdoing in all the cases and disagreed with the final conclusions in the study, which included an 82-page testimony and evidence compiled by the retired pope’s team.
A Vatican News editorial defended Pope Benedict, noting how, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then-Cardinal Ratzinger “promulgated very harsh norms against clerical abusers” and enacted special measures that had not existed before to improve the way allegations were handled.
As pope, it said, he paved the way for a change in mentality in how the church treats survivors who, instead of being welcomed and accompanied, often were marginalized and considered “enemies” of the church. He was “the first pope to meet several times with victims of abuse,” it said, and he repeatedly emphasized the need for the Catholic Church to ask forgiveness from victims and from Jesus, “who has always been on the side of the victims and never of the executioners.”
Though nearly 95 years old and frail, Pope Benedict drafted a two-page letter in response to the Munich abuse report, expressing his deep hurt that an unintentional editing error in testimony written on his behalf would lead to the assumption he was a liar.
“Each individual case of sexual abuse is appalling and irreparable,” he also wrote in that letter in early February 2022.
“I have had great responsibilities in the Catholic Church. All the greater is my pain for the abuses and the errors that occurred in those different places during the time of my mandate,” the retired pope wrote.
“Once again I can only express to all the victims of sexual abuse my profound shame, my deep sorrow and my heartfelt request for forgiveness,” he said.
From 2001, when St. John Paul II charged the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — headed by then-Cardinal Ratzinger — with the authority to take over cases from local bishops for investigation, Pope Benedict was aware of many examples of abuse. It was his office in 2003 that expedited the process for laicizing priests guilty of sexually abusing minors.
After his election in 2005, Pope Benedict worked to address lingering concerns.
He approved a decision to sanction Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, who was accused of sexually abusing minors. Though no canonical process was begun against the late priest, he was banned from exercising his priestly ministry publicly in 2006 following a Vatican investigation.
As new revelations of abuse hit the news, particularly in Europe, Pope Benedict and his top aides looked for ways to refine policies for handling accusations and strengthening child protection programs worldwide.
He approved the revision of church law in 2010 on handling priestly sex abuse cases, streamlining disciplinary measures, extending the statute of limitations and defining child pornography as an act of sexual abuse of a minor. The revisions codified and clarified practices that had been implemented through special permissions granted over the past decade and made them part of universal law.
Pope Benedict also met personally with survivors of abuse in Australia, Malta, Great Britain and the United States, acknowledging the horror they had suffered and the scandal of a slow church response.
In a pastoral letter to Catholics in Ireland, he addressed victims directly.
“You have suffered grievously, and I am truly sorry,” he wrote. “I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed, and your dignity has been violated.”
In Ireland and elsewhere, the pope removed bishops accused of abuse and other improprieties or who were found to have covered up the sexual crimes or misconduct of their own clergy.
Nonetheless, Pope Benedict still came under fire by some victims’ advocates for a lack of transparency and for having not done enough as pope and as former prefect of the doctrinal congregation.
One case in particular was the decision not to laicize a Wisconsin priest who had probably molested about 200 children, despite the recommendation of his bishop that he be removed from the priesthood.
By the time the Vatican learned in the late 1990s of the case of Father Lawrence C. Murphy, the priest was elderly and in poor health. The Vatican suggested that the priest continue to be restricted in ministry instead of laicized, and he died four months later.
At a Mass marking the end of the Year for Priests in 2011, Pope Benedict said that what had been planned as a year of celebration became a “summons to purification” in light of new scandals.
“In this very year of joy for the sacrament of the priesthood, the sins of priests came to light — particularly the abuse of the little ones, in which the priesthood, whose task is to manifest God’s concern for our good, turns into its very opposite,” the pope said during a Mass with about 15,000 priests.
WASHINGTON (CNS) – When Pope Benedict came to the United States for a visit to Washington and New York spanning six days in mid-April 2008, some news accounts called the pace of his schedule “grueling.”
Pope Benedict handled the pace with good grace while getting his message out to millions of Catholics both in the United States and throughout the world. He died at the Vatican Dec. 31.
The trip had been timed to help celebrate the bicentennials of four archdioceses in the United States: New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Louisville, Kentucky. They were erected from the Baltimore Diocese, the nation’s first diocese, which was elevated to an archdiocese in the same year, 1808.
But it was the abuse crisis, which burst onto front pages in 2002 and persists to this day, that was a central focus of Pope Benedict’s trip; this was the first papal visit since the scandal started making headlines in the U.S.
At a Mass at the brand new Nationals Park in Washington, Pope Benedict said that “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.”
The pope lauded the efforts to deal “honestly and fairly with this tragic situation and to ensure that children – whom Our Lord loves so deeply and who are our greatest treasure – can grow up in a safe environment.”
“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,” he said.
Later that day, he met privately with a group of abuse survivors at the apostolic nunciature; the meeting was a first for a pope.
Pope Benedict’s Washington itinerary included an audience with the U.S. bishops and an appearance at The Catholic University of America, the nation’s papally chartered university, to speak to educators. He also presided over a vespers service at the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
The pope met with President George W. Bush inside the White House, emerging to cheering throngs outside as the pope and the president exchanged greetings.
In his meeting with the bishops, Pope Benedict acknowledged the “evil” of the clerical sexual abuse crisis and encouraged them to continue their work to restore trust in the church and its ministers.
Talking to educators at The Catholic University of America, he said today’s challenges require sound instruction in the faith, especially among the young. But they also call for “cultivating a mindset, an intellectual culture, which is genuinely Catholic” and can bring the Gospel to bear on the urgent issues American society faces.
Before heading to New York, Pope Benedict met with 200 representatives of Islam, Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism gathered at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center, and on his way to an ecumenical prayer service in Manhattan, Pope Benedict stopped to greet Jewish leaders at the Park East Synagogue.
At the synagogue, Pope Benedict expressed his respect for the city’s Jewish community and encouraged the building of “bridges of friendship” between religions. The encounter marked the first time a pope had visited a Jewish place of worship in the United States, and it came a day before the start of Passover.
At the ecumenical prayer service, Pope Benedict said the witness of Christians in the world is weakened not only by their divisions, but also by some communities turning their backs on Christian tradition.
“Too often those who are not Christians, as they observe the splintering of Christian communities, are understandably confused about the Gospel message itself,” he said.
He also praised the ecumenical commitment of U.S. Christians and acknowledged that the agreements found in their theological dialogues have contributed to the theological agreements later forged by the Vatican and its official dialogue partners.
Celebrating Mass in New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral with thousands of priests and religious, the pope urged the Catholic Church in the United States to move past divisions and scandal toward a “new sense of unity and purpose.” It is time, he said, to “put aside all anger and contention” inside the church and embark on a fresh mission of evangelization in society.
Honoring the bicentennial of four U.S. archdioceses, Pope Benedict praised the “solid foundations” of the American Catholic Church and said that “the future of the church in America” must continue to build on that “impressive legacy.”
But in his homily for the final U.S. Mass, celebrated at Yankee Stadium, he also said the “impressive growth” of the U.S. church has been “not without its challenges,” comparing those challenges to the “linguistic and cultural tensions” found in the early church.
“In these 200 years, the face of the Catholic community in your country has changed greatly,” Pope Benedict said. “We think of the successive waves of immigrants whose traditions have so enriched the church in America.”
He also lauded “the strong faith which built up the network of churches, educational, health care and social institutions which have long been the hallmark of the church in this land,” as well as “those countless fathers and mothers who passed on the faith to their children, the steady ministry of the many priests who devoted their lives to the care of souls, and the incalculable contribution made by so many men and women religious.”
In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Pope Benedict said neither government nor religion has a right to change or limit human rights, because those rights flow from the dignity of each person created in God’s image. The pope insisted that human rights cannot be limited or rewritten on the basis of national interests or majority rule.
He also said the role of religions is not to dictate government policy, but to help their members strive to find the truth, including the truth about the dignity of all people, even if their religious views are different.
Two years after his U.S. visit, Pope Benedict sat down for an interview with German journalist Peter Seewald. The interview became the basis for a book, “Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times.”
Speaking of the visit, when the abuse crisis was center stage, Pope Benedict said: “I think even non-Catholics were surprised that the visit was not some kind of challenge.”
The pope said that at every appointment on his trip, including the liturgies in New York and Washington, there was “joyful participation, a sense of closeness, of communion, that touched me greatly.”
Asked whether the church in the United States had already surmounted the abuse crisis, Pope Benedict replied, “That might be an exaggeration.” But, he added, the crisis made the U.S. church in the United States “aware of its fragility and of the problems and sin that are present in it. This is very important. In addition, there is an internal awakening to the need to overcome all these things and to live out and embody Catholic identity in new ways in our time.”
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Just a few hours after retired Pope Benedict XVI died in his Vatican residence Dec. 31, Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office, provided a few early details of what to expect in the coming days.
The 95-year-old pope’s remains will be in St. Peter’s Basilica beginning the morning of Jan. 2 for people to pay their last respects and offer their prayers, he said. The funeral Mass, presided over by Pope Francis, will be in St. Peter’s Square Jan. 5 starting at 9:30 a.m. Rome time.
While he did not offer precise details as to what the funeral Mass of a retired pope will look like, Bruni said that Pope Benedict wanted his funeral and related events to be carried out “in a sign of simplicity.”
Bruni also said the retired pope received the sacrament of the anointing of the sick Dec. 28, the day Pope Francis told people Pope Benedict was “very sick” and in need of prayers.
“Ask the Lord to console him and sustain him in his witness of love for the church until the very end,” Pope Francis had said at the end of his general audience.
Before the funeral, Bruni added, all scheduled events at the Vatican were to continue as planned, such as Pope Francis’ evening celebration of vespers and the recitation of the Te Deum Dec. 31.