Pope Benedict XVI Visits Washington, D.C.
By Congressman Michael Turner
Our nation recently had the honor of hosting Pope Benedict XVI on his first visit to the United States of America since becoming pontiff three years ago. Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Washington, D.C. on April 15 and spent five days in America where he celebrated Masses, met with world leaders and students, and addressed the United Nations General Assembly. In addition, Pope Benedict celebrated his 81st birthday while in Washington, D.C.
Upon his arrival, Pope Benedict was greeted at Andrews Air Force Base by the President of the United States and the First Lady. I had the honor of attending a welcoming ceremony the next day, on the South Lawn of the White House, where he was welcomed by the President and Vice President, the Speaker of the House, the Secretary of State, the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See and Members of Congress. Approximately 10,000 people, including Catholic clergy, local Catholic school children, and members of the Boys and Girls Scouts of America, attended the ceremony. Pope Benedict XVI is only the second pontiff to visit the White House and the first since President Jimmy Carter hosted Pope John Paul II in 1979.
I also attended a special Mass held by the Pope on his birthday in the brand new Washington Nationals Baseball Stadium. Approximately 45,000 people filled the stadium for its first ever non-baseball event and it has been estimated that as many as four times as many people tried to get tickets. The crowd included people who had traveled from across the country to hear the Holy Father including many from here in the Miami Valley. During his homily, the Pope called Americans a “people of hope” whose “ancestors came to this country with the expectation of finding new freedom and opportunity.” Pope Benedict urged those present to commit to “building an ever more just and free world for generations to come.” Following the conclusion of the Pope’s homily, communion was distributed to the crowd with the help of over 300 Catholic priests and bishops.
After his visit to our Nation’s Capital, the Pope traveled to New York City where he addressed the United Nations General Assembly. The Pope spoke about the importance of respecting human rights and the need for international cooperation to protect these rights. On the following day, the Pope celebrated a second Mass, this one at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx for over 57,000 people. While in New York City, the Pope also traveled to Ground Zero in Manhattan where he prayed for the victims of the attacks of September 11 and their families.
The visit of Pope Benedict XVI to America was historic in many ways. I will never forget hearing the Pope’s message of peace, hope, and forgiveness at both the White House and his Mass in Washington, D.C, and this message will resonate with me for years to come.
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