Pope plans limited U.S. visit

Washington and N.Y. on April itinerary

Baltimore bypassed

November 13, 2007|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN REPORTER

Pope Benedict XVI unveiled yesterday an itinerary for his first trip to the United States that will take him to the White House, the United Nations and Ground Zero in April, giving many Americans an up-close glimpse of the pope.

Pope Benedict, who became pontiff in 2005, has not traveled as much as his globe-trotting predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who drew tens of thousands of the faithful at stops around the world. The six-day trip is limited to Washington and New York, and does not include a Baltimore stop that had been sought by Cardinal William H. Keeler, the city's former archbishop.

Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the apostolic nuncio, or the Vatican's ambassador to the United States, announced the pope's itinerary during the opening address of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' fall meeting at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel.

Many details are still to be determined for the trip, which the conference's president, Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., characterized as a "pastoral visit."

Pope Benedict is scheduled to begin his "apostolic journey" in Washington on April 15. He will make an official state visit to the White House on April 16, his 81st birthday, and will celebrate Mass with U.S. bishops at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The next day, he will celebrate a public Mass for 45,000 at the Washington Nationals' new stadium.

He also will meet April 17 with interreligious leaders at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center and with Catholic university presidents and diocesan educators at the Catholic University of America before continuing on to New York.

On April 18, the pontiff will address the United Nations and meet with ecumenical leaders. The next day, he will celebrate Mass with priests and members of religious orders at St. Patrick's Cathedral and attend a youth event at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y.

He will end his trip April 20 with a visit to Ground Zero at the World Trade Center site and a public Mass at Yankee Stadium.

Pope Benedict's arrival is scheduled in the midst of the U.S. presidential election campaign.

This week, the bishops are considering drafts of "Faithful Citizenship," a document listing principles of "formation of conscience" for Roman Catholic voters. Yesterday, the bishops agreed on a statement favoring "responsible transition" in Iraq - although they stopped short of stating which presidential candidates most closely support their position.

"Perhaps the Holy Father, coming here at this time, in some of his presentations will be able to speak to the reality in which we are," Skylstad said.

"I think his visit will be a blessing without having to get into any of the political particulars," Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington said in a news conference.

Visiting Washington gives the pope the chance to speak to the entire Catholic community in this country, Wuerl said afterward.

The pope's visit "will be an opportunity to renew our whole faith community, to renew the church," Wuerl said. "So many good things have been happening, and the Holy Father will be a catalyst simply to lift those up and to say we need to continue doing the very best we can do in the service to the Gospel."

After Pope Benedict accepted an invitation in April from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon to visit the United Nations next year, a number of U.S. clerics requested papal visits, including Cardinal Sean O'Malley of the Archdiocese of Boston, which like New York celebrates its bicentennial next year.

"There have been some strong attempts on the parts of other bishops to have him go elsewhere," Skylstad said.

Keeler had invited Pope Benedict to Baltimore several times since he became pontiff and reissued the request in the spring.

Keeler had hoped the pope would make time to visit the newly restored Basilica of the Assumption, the nation's first cathedral, as well as the new Our Daily Bread Employment Center.

But Pope Benedict has made fewer trips than Pope John Paul, who was much younger when he began his tenure as pontiff. So far, Pope Benedict has been to Brazil, Spain, Germany, Poland and Turkey on official visits.

"He will be celebrating, I think his second day here, his 81st birthday," Skylstad said. "The schedule is somewhat limited each day to conserve his energy."

The nation's capital and New York were logical locations for the pope to speak to the world and to the American people, said the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a senior fellow at Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center. "New York and Washington are bully pulpits."

Every time Pope John Paul visited the United States, he met with the president, said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of communications for the bishops' conference. Though Pope John Paul did not stop in Washington when he visited Baltimore in 1995, he met with President Bill Clinton in Newark, N.J.

Reese is curious what topics Pope Benedict will address at both the Catholic University of America, where he will meet with leaders of Catholic colleges and universities as well as diocesan heads of education, and at the World Trade Center site.

Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Washington, said that a limited number of tickets for the Mass at the Nationals stadium will be provided to the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Archdiocese of Arlington, Va., and that the archdioceses would distribute them.

liz.kay@baltsun.com

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