Pope to visit capital on first trip to U.S.
BALTIMORE — Pope Benedict XVI is coming to Washington and New York in mid-April to meet with President Bush, address the United Nations and visit ground zero.
The pope will provide the Washington Nationals’ new ballpark with a baptism of sorts with an open-air Mass only days after its official opening.
Although a papal advance team had been in the country mapping out scenarios for the trip, Nov. 12 was the first time that the nation’s Catholic bishops learned which cities the pontiff will visit.
Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the apostolic nuncio, announced the details of the April 15-20 trip at the annual business meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) at the Waterfront Marriott in Baltimore.
“The pope won’t travel much,” Archbishop Sambi said. “But he will address all the people of the United States and the whole Catholic Church.”
Although Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, visited several cities at a time during his trips to America, Benedict’s age and lower energy levels limited his itinerary, USCCB President William Skylstad told reporters.
Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl was jubilant at being one of only two prelates, along with New York Cardinal Edward M. Egan, chosen to host the pontiff. Several bishops had sent invitations.
“We prayed and prayed,” he said at a press conference. “When we heard he was invited to the United Nations — remember he was invited there by the secretary-general — we thought it appropriate to invite him to Washington.
“That he would come to Washington says to me that he sees this as a see representing the entire United States,” he added.
Archbishop Sambi said the pope will arrive in Washington the afternoon of April 15, a Tuesday. Where he will stay was not announced, but other popes have stayed at the papal nuncio’s residence on Massachusetts Avenue Northwest.
On Wednesday morning, the pope’s 81st birthday, Benedict will meet with President Bush at the White House. That afternoon, he will address all the U.S. bishops at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
“President and Mrs. Bush are honored to welcome His Holiness to the White House next April,” presidential spokesman Gordon Johndroe said. Mr. Bush has met Pope Benedict once before, in a June as par t of a broader trip to Europe for the Group of Eight summit in Germany.
Pope Benedict’s only public appearance in Washington will be a Mass on the morning of April 17 at the 41,222-seat Nationals’ sta- dium in Southwest. It will be the first non-athletic event at the venue, which will have been open barely a week.
“I expect there’ll be more people who want to see the pope than there are seats at the stadium,” Archbishop Wuerl said.
That afternoon, he will meet with Catholic university presidents and diocesan education directors on the grounds of Catholic University of America. After that, he will attend an interfaith gathering at the nearby John Paul II Cultural Center.
Early on April 18, he will fly to New York and will address the United Nations that same morning. He will attend a second ecumenical meeting at an unspecified New York parish that Friday afternoon. On April 19, the third anniversary of his election as pope, he will spend the morning celebrating a morning Mass with priests, deacons and members of religious orders at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan. That after noon, he will meet with Catholic youth at St. Joseph Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y.
He will spend the next morning, a Sunday, visiting ground zero in Manhattan. That afternoon, he will celebrate Mass at Yankee Stadium before flying back to Rome.
“We make of this meeting a new usefulness, a new spring, a new Pentecost,” Archbishop Sambi said. “The Holy Spirit is ready. The answer depends on us.”
In other business, the bishops discussed a proposed “Call for Bipartisan Cooperation on Responsible Transition in Iraq,” which echoes Pope Benedict’s opposition to the war in Iraq. Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando, Fla., said he consulted with several members of Congress before submitting it.
“We are alarmed by the political and partisan stalemate in Washington,” the document says in part. “Some policy-makers seem to fail to recognize sufficiently the reality and failures in Iraq and the imperative for new directions. Others seem to fail to recognize sufficiently the potential human consequences of very rapid withdrawal.”
Various bishops asked for several additions to the document, ranging from a “day of prayer and penitence” to mention of the suffering Chaldean Catholics in Iraq and Islamic radicalism.
“Our statements tend to focus on American action and American restraint, yet I don’t know if we’re taking into account Islamic jihadism,” said Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Paprocki. “I’d like our statements to reflect a little more that reality.”
Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., asked for a mention of the “heroism” of American troops.
“Whether we agree with this venture or note, we need to say something,” he said.