Pope Arrives at Nationals Stadium for Mass

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CBNNews.com - Pope Benedict XVI arrived at Washington Nationals stadium on Thursday for his first public Mass in the United States.

Tens of thousands of people waved and hoped to catch a glimpse as the German-born pope was driven through the grounds in his popemobile.

A crowd of 46,000 was expected, and the demand for tickets doubled the supply, organizers said.

At 5:45 a.m., more than four hours before the Mass, it was standing-room only on subways. Many people without tickets stood outside the subway station with signs pleading for extras.

Benedict spent the first full day of his U.S. journey Wednesday sharing a platform with President Bush and laying out his analysis of the American church to the nation's bishops.

Before Benedict's arrival, polls showed most Americans knew little or nothing about him. Those who have watched him so far have found a German-born pontiff who speaks excellent English, appears vigorous for his 81 years, mostly prefers script to spontaneity and displays a keen sense of the critical issues facing his 65-million member American flock.

One of the bigger questions looming over Benedict's first U.S. trip as pontiff was whether and how he would address the clergy sex abuse scandal.

The problem has claimed thousands of victims, cost the church more than $2 billion in court costs and settlements, and led six dioceses to declare bankruptcy.

In an address to U.S. bishops Wednesday night at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Benedict called the scandal a "deep shame."

He expressed profound regret for the "enormous pain" that communities have suffered from such "gravely immoral behavior."

He also said the problem needs to be viewed in the wider context of secularism and the over-sexualization of America, and called for "a determined, collective response."

Benedict's address went well beyond anticipated comments. He talked about Catholics' responsibility to raise their voices in the public square, the need to encourage more men to enter the priesthood, the influx of Hispanic immigrants who have transformed the church, and the importance of strengthening families.

The pope's presence has deeply touched the devout. Elsa Thompson of Washington, D.C., who as a basilica tour guide knows the stories behind nearly every mosaic and stained-glass window, said that when she looks at Benedict, she sees a moral authority and a clear voice in a confused world.

Yet she too wonders how the scholarly pontiff's message will translate Thursday in a baseball stadium, as Catholics from around the country are introduced to him in person.

"I watched him on TV at the White House, and I thought, 'How many people actually grasp what he's saying?' - including me," Thompson said. "Yet at the same time, I felt challenged, because he is a teacher."

After his appearance at the stadium Thursday, Benedict will address Catholic educators and meet with leaders of other faiths.

Source: The Associated Press

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