Benedict Holds Stadium Mass for N.Y.C. Faithful

Pope Benedict XVI concluded his U.S. visit today with a tour of New York City. The pontiff stopped this morning at Ground Zero and gave a blessing at the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks there. In the afternoon he presided over a Mass for a capacity crowd at Yankee Stadium.

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JACKI LYDEN, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden.

Pope Benedict XVI made the final stops on his U.S. tour today, and it was an only in New York kind of occasion. This morning he took a somber moment to contemplate Ground Zero and then he headed out to the ballpark, saying mass to more than 50,000 people crowded into Yankee Stadium.

BENEDICT XVI: Authority, obedience. To be frank, these are not easy words to speak nowadays.

LYDEN: And also historian:

XVI: In this land of (unintelligible) liberty, Catholics found freedom not only to practice their faith but also to participate fully in civic life.

LYDEN: He even played recruiter:

XVI: Young men and women of America, I urge you open your hearts to the Lord's calling. To follow him into priesthood and to richest life.

LYDEN: This afternoon's joyous Yankee Stadium mass was quite a tonal shift from the earlier service at Ground Zero. NPR's Mike Pesca was there and sent this report.

MIKE PESCA: Construction cranes rose like steeples around the side of the service, an area inside of the pit or bedrock of the former World Trade Center. A small reflecting pool, a patch of exposed earth, a candle and a kneeler were the centerpieces for this austere ceremony. Survivors, family members of 9/11 victims, the governors of New York and New Jersey and the mayor of New York City stood out in the crisp April air awaiting the Pope's arrival.

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PESCA: The lone cellist played Bach, the Popemobile began its careful descent down the long ramp that normally allows construction vehicles access to the pit.

When the Pope emerged from the vehicle, he was greeted by Cardinal Edward Egan, who walked the 81-year-old pontiff the rest of the way down the ramp. Except for the clicks of still photographers, all was silent as Benedict lowered himself onto a white kneeler, stood, lit a large candle and began to pray.

XVI: We ask you in your compassion to bring healing to souls who because of their presence (unintelligible) suffer from (unintelligible). Here too is the pain of still-grieving families and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy.

PESCA: He also mentioned those who lost their lives at the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania on 9/11 and continued on with a plea for the future.

XVI: God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world. Peace in the hearts of our men and women and peace among the nations of the earth.

PESCA: After sprinkling holy water in all directions, the Pope met with first responders and World Trade Center survivors and relatives.

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PESCA: Cardinal Egan read brief biographical descriptions of each person stood before the pontiff. The words were barely audible but observers could discern small snippets. Her husband work for Cantor Fitzgerald; his brother was a firefighter.

The Pope spoke with everyone he met, often holding their hands, sometimes conversing for up to the minute. Afterwards New York Governor David Paterson, a Catholic, who is meeting the Pope for the first time, said he was struck that the pontiff did not come off as regal but very compassionate and unassuming. That was, Paterson said, exactly appropriate for the circumstance and the setting.

Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.

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