By John Norton
NEW YORK CITY — Pope Benedict XVI closed his six-day visit to the United States with a challenge to Catholics to “hasten the coming of God’s kingdom in this land” through prayer, integrity of life and active participation in civil society.
“‘Thy kingdom come.’ This prayer needs to shape the mind and heart of every Christian in this nation. It needs to bear fruit in the way you lead your lives and in the way you build up your families and communities,” he said Sunday afternoon during Mass for 57,000 people in Yankee Stadium.
The Mass commemorated the 200th anniversary of the elevation of Baltimore to an archdiocese, and the creation of the dioceses — now archdioceses — of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and what is now Louisville, Ky. Groups of pilgrims from each archdiocese were represented in number, and cheered enthusiastically when introduced by a beaming New York Cardinal Edward M. Egan at the start of Mass.
“Past generations have left you an impressive legacy,” the pope said in his homily. “In our day, too, the Catholic community in this nation has been outstanding in its prophetic witness in the defense of life, in the education of the young, in care for the poor, the sick and the stranger in your midst. On these solid foundations, the future of the Church in American must even now begin to rise!”
Pope Benedict, who turned 81 this week and, at times, has looked tired during some events, read his homily with passion – and though still heavily accented by his native German – much more clearly after nearly a week in the United States. He was particularly energetic when addressing youth and Spanish speakers.
Following the pattern of his other discourses during the trip, the pope offered words of gratitude and encouragement punctuated with forward-looking challenges. While he called for greater engagement with broader society, he focused on fundamentals rather than identifying specific problems.
At the core of his message was the relationship between truth and freedom, which he acknowledged involves a “self-surrender” in “obedience of faith” that runs counter to contemporary understandings of freedom.
“‘Authority’ … ‘obedience.’ To be frank, these are not easy words to speak nowadays,” he said.
But, he said, “freedom, in truth, brings in its wake a new and liberating way of seeing reality,” and becomes a force for transforming lives and society.
“True freedom blossoms when we turn away from the burden of sin – which clouds our perceptions and weakens our resolve – and find the source of our ultimate happiness in him who is infinite love, infinite freedom, infinite life,” he said.
The pope said praying and working for the coming of God’s kingdom means “being constantly alert for the signs of its presence … facing the challenges of present and future with confidence in Christ’s victory … not losing heart in the face of resistance, adversity and scandal … overcoming every separation between faith and life, and countering false gospels of freedom and happiness … [and] rejecting a false dichotomy between faith and political life.”
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