c. 2008 Religion News Service
YONKERS, N.Y. _ Pope Benedict XVI used the third anniversary of his pontificate on Saturday (April 19) to energize his U.S. flock, urging young Catholics to follow the example of the saints and work to alleviate suffering in a world that “groans under the weight” of greed.
“We must respond with a renewed social action that stems from the universal love that knows no bounds,” Benedict told 25,000 young Catholics gathered on the ground of St. Joseph’s Seminary just north of New York City.
Destruction of the earth, driven by “consumerist greed” and “irresponsible exploitation,” is among the “new injustices” that must be combated by committed Christians, Benedict said.
Benedict also decried “relativism,” or a lack of confidence in universal truth, sounding a theme he has repeated at nearly every stop on his inaugural six-day visit to the American church.
Saturday’s youth rally, which followed a Mass for priests and nuns earlier in the day at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, demonstrated the pope’s focus on the future of the U.S. church as it continues healing from the clergy sexual abuse crisis.
In the Mass for more than 1,200 clergy at St. Patrick’s, Benedict expressed his “spiritual closeness as you strive to respond with Christian hope to the continuing challenges that this situation presents.”
On Sunday, the last day of his trip, Benedict is scheduled to pray at Ground Zero, the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and celebrate Mass for more than 50,000 at Yankee Stadium.
Before taking center stage at the rally, Benedict blessed about 50 young people with disabilities and their caregivers.
Saturday’s rally carried the vibe of a rock festival, with gaggles of excited teenagers, long lines for fried foods and hip-hop beats thumping through the air. “American Idol” starlet Kelly Clarkson, Christian artist Toby Mac and a host of other young musicians performed before the pope arrived.
At this event, however, an 81-year-old German theologian was the main attraction. Nuns in habits and seminarians in long black cassocks leavened the young crowd as priests heard confessions under the shady steeples of elm trees.
Helen Patterson, 19, and Miriam Santiago, 18, wearing matching baby-blue T-shirts that read “Hit 1 For the Pope’s Team,” said they gladly made the 15-hour drive here from Dawsonville, Ga.
“He’s the pope,” said Santiago, a student at Southern Catholic College in Dawsonville. “He’s pretty important.”
As he took in the crowd gathered in the warm spring afternoon, Adam Kotsas,a 22-year-old seminarian in a black cassock, said he could “see that our church is alive, that our faith is a living faith.”
“So many Catholics are leaving the church, especially after the sex abuse scandal, (and) for those of us in seminaries, events like this really inspire us, they give hope to those of us who are going to dedicate our life to the church,” said Kotsas, of Sts. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Mich.
Kotsas is one of a dwindling number of young men studying for the priesthood. In 1965, 58,600 priests served the church; by last year that figure had dropped to just 41,000, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. About 3,330 Catholic parishes have no resident priest, another report found.
Addressing the seminarians, Benedict urged them to “reject any temptation to ostentation, careerism or conceit. Strive for a pattern of life truly marked by charity, chastity and humility.”
Shoring up his U.S. clergy corps was the subtext for the elaborate Mass at St. Patrick’s _ the first papal Mass ever celebrated in a church that represents the heart and soul of American Catholicism.
It was the fourth time since he started his trip on Tuesday that the pope referenced the abuse scandal, a theme that has come to dominate the entire visit, especially Benedict’s closed-door meeting with abuse survivors in Washington.
On Friday, a top Vatican official traveling with Benedict hinted to reporters that the church was considering revising how it handles accusations of sexual abuse by extending its statute of limitations on when victims may come forward.
Clergy said they welcomed the pope’s repeated attention to the scandal’s scars, even if they had not anticipated that the issue would be such a prominent theme of the trip.
“I was happy to hear his solidarity with all of the good priests and religious, the vast majority of whom had nothing to do with the crisis,” said the Rev. James Martin, the associate editor of America magazine, a Jesuit weekly.
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Benedict was greeted at the doors of the massive Gothic cathedral by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg as trumpets sounded and some 3,000 Catholic clergy and nuns erupted in applause.
The pope seemed taken by the cathedral’s ornate architecture and used the landmark in his homily “as a starting point for reflection on our particular vocations.”
“The spires of St. Patrick’s Cathedral are dwarfed by the skyscrapers of the Manhattan skyline, yet in the heart of this busy metropolis, they are a vivid reminder of the constant yearning of the human spirit to rise to God.”
At times, the pope’s homily took on the air of a spiritual pep talk. He urged Catholic clergy and nuns to be zealous in their love of God and neighbor and not let “the light of faith … be dimmed by routine” or the church be “obscured by the sins and weaknesses of her members.”
“In a society where the church seems legalistic and `institutional’ to many people, our most urgent challenge is to communicate the joy born of faith and the experience of God’s love.”
KRE/DEA END BURKEEds: photos of the pope’s trip along Fifth Avenue are available via https://religionnews.com
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