Story: Pope celebrates mass at Saint Patrick's

April 19, 2008 5:03:26 PM PDT
Pope Benedict XVI returned to the clergy sex abuse scandal as he preached Saturday in St. Patrick's cathedral, assuring priests and nuns that he was close to them as they battled the damage left by the scandal.Addressing some 3,000 people, most of them clergy, he called it a time for purification and healing.

Pope homily at St. Patrick's: Full Text .

"I simply wish to assure you, dear priests and religious, of my spiritual closeness as you strive to respond with Christian hope to he continuing challenges that this situation presents," Benedict said.

He also urged them to cooperate with bishops, who he said were working to resolve the crisis.

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    Saturday was the third anniversary of Benedict's election as pope and he was feted by cardinals and bishops, priests and nuns who jammed the magnificent Gothic church on Fifth Avenue.

    It was the first time in the history of the 19th-century landmark that a pope has celebrated Mass at St. Patrick's.

    Thousands of people lined up 10 deep along several blocks of Fifth Avenue early in the morning, straining for a glance at the pope as he approached the spires of the cathedral.

    Marcio Silva, 34, proudly displayed a digital camera with a photo of the pope from the back window of his limousine.

    "After seeing the pope I feel different," said Silva, a house painter from Bridgeport, Conn. "I feel much better, because I see a person who will make the world better."

    Benedict blessed the cathedral with holy water before making his way to the altar. Nuns clutched at his robes, showing an enthusiasm for his presence that has spread among the general public throughout his visit.

    The pope referred to St. Patrick's several times in his homily, using the building's qualities as a starting point to discuss faith.

    "Perhaps more than any other church in the United States, this place is known and loved as 'a house of prayer for all people,"' the pope said, quoting Scripture. "Each day, thousands of men and women and children enter its doors and find peace within its walls."

    He devoted several minutes to artist Charles Connick's stained-glass windows, which "flood the interior with mystic light" and said the cathedral's spires are "a vivid reminder of the constant yearning of the human spirit to rise to God."

    Hundreds waited for Benedict outside the Vatican residence on the Upper East Side, while many more crammed behind police barriers to await his motorcade before and after the Mass.

    A group of teenagers from a Paterson, N.J., church showed up with drums, tambourines and a guitar. As the papal motorcade approached Fifth Avenue, Jenny Alcantara, 17, yelled out, "The pope is coming!" Others in the crowd shouted "Hallelujah!," waving flags in yellow and white, the colors of the Vatican.

    "The pope makes a difference in my life every day," Alcantara said. "(He) keeps me away from drugs, depression, premarital sex."

    The 2,200-seat white marble cathedral - with 330-foot spires-opened in 1879, replacing an old St. Patrick's cathedral in downtown Manhattan that was destroyed by fire. It has undergone several renovations, adding its stained-glass windows in the 1920s and a new stone altar in the 1980s.

    Funeral Masses for everyone from Babe Ruth to Robert F. Kennedy have been held at St. Patrick's. It recently ranked 11th out of 150 monuments and buildings in a survey of Americans' favorite architecture.

    Benedict was clearly moved after the Vatican's No. 2 official, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and others offered him best wishes for the anniversary at the end of the Mass. The pope said that he, like St. Peter, was a "man with his faults."

    Benedict then led a procession out the center aisle, blessing the cheering worshippers.

    Upon arriving, he was met outside by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, while former Mayor Rudy Giuliani was inside.

    At the cathedral, Benedict touched on the theme of his trip - Christian hope - saying he wanted to communicate the joy born of faith to a cynical world.

    Stay with Eyewitness News and for complete coverage of the pope's visit to New York.