NEW YORK -- Donning Red Sox apparel and armed with their rosaries, fans of both the Sox and Pope Benedict XVI made their way to Yankee Stadium for the April 20 Papal Mass.
Many of the 3,000 pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Boston wore Red Sox caps and entered the ballpark to their chagrin. Even Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley joked about the Yankees-Sox rivalry and curse attempts by fans. At the Boston Catholic Men’s Conference Mass April 19, he said of the Papal Mass the following day, “I will be wearing my red socks -- and if the New York police don’t stop me, I will bury them in the outfield!”
The Mass was the last of Pope Benedict’s scheduled events during his 2008 papal visit, “Christ Our Hope,” to the United States from April 15-20. He traveled first to Washington D.C. where he met with President George W. Bush, celebrated Mass at the Nationals Park and met privately with clergy abuse victims from Boston. Then, he went to New York where he addressed the United Nations, led a youth rally and visited Ground Zero.
On April 20, the Archdiocese of Boston loaded up 42 buses in 21 locations, leaving for New York City at 6:30 a.m. They would return again around 10:30 p.m.
On the trip, local Catholics prayed the rosary and watched movies such as “Therèse.” Buses were met with traffic jams near the stadium and once they unloaded, pilgrims spent an hour or more making their way through the crowd and security.
Once inside the stadium, pilgrims waited in long lines to purchase hot dogs, peanuts and Cracker Jacks from the vendors. They listened to the concert that began at 12 p.m. and even started “the wave.”
But when the Holy Father toured the edge of the field in his popemobile, the crowd became a sea of yellow and white handkerchiefs, waved in his honor. He made his way to the stage where the papal seal covered the pitcher’s mound with yellow and white ribbons that stretched over the grass to the rest of the stage. Pope Benedict sat facing home plate.
Even after the Mass began, the 55,000 Catholics in the stadium would begin chants for “Benedetto.”
Every diocese in the country was represented at the Mass, but special recognition was paid to the four archdioceses -- Boston, Louisville, Philadelphia and New York -- celebrating their bicentennials. Their seals were hung on the wall behind the bleacher seats. In 1808, those four daughter dioceses were formed from Baltimore, which became an archdiocese. Since then, all four have become archdioceses themselves.
Before the Mass began, Cardinal Edward Egan acknowledged the 200th anniversary dioceses individually, and when Boston was announced, the archdiocesan upper-deck crowd erupted in cheers and applause.
Pope Benedict XVI gave a long homily in which he spoke about the importance of the Church’s unity and the challenge that presents in the American culture that places a “high value on personal freedom.”
“The Gospel teaches us that true freedom, the freedom of the children of God, is found only in the self-surrender which is part of the mystery of love,” he said.
He exhorted Catholics to direct their whole lives to the Lord’s truth and service to his kingdom. He challenged them to “be people of joy, heralds of the unfailing hope born of faith in God’s word and trust in his promises.”
“It means not losing heart in the face of resistance, adversity and scandal. It means overcoming every separation between faith and life, and countering false gospels of freedom and happiness. It also means rejecting a false dichotomy between faith and political life,” he said. “It means working to enrich American society and culture with the beauty and truth of the Gospel.”
The Holy Father praised the gains made by the Church in the United States in the past 200 years, including educational, charitable and social works.
He added, “Today’s celebration is more than an occasion of gratitude for graces received. It is also a summons to move forward with firm resolve to use wisely the blessings of freedom, in order to build a future of hope for coming generations.”
Then, the pontiff addressed the young people in the crowd, saying that he was moved by the joy, hope and generous love of Christ displaced by those at the youth rally, held the previous day at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, N.Y.
He told them, “May you step forward and take up the responsibility which your faith in Christ sets before you! May you find the courage to proclaim Christ, ‘the same, yesterday, and today and for ever’ and the unchanging truths which have their foundation in him.”
These truths bring freedom and guarantee respect for the dignity of every person, including the most defenseless -- the unborn child in the mother’s womb, he said at which point the stadium crowd cheered loudly.
Pope Benedict concluded his homily with words in Spanish, addressing the Spanish-speaking pilgrims with “affection” and said that Christ helps his followers to “discover our true dignity as children of God.”
Two seminarians studying at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton had the opportunity to altar serve at the Mass.
Huy Nguyen from the Archdiocese of Boston led the procession of bicentennial archdioceses and had the opportunity to greet the pope and kiss his ring.
“I still can’t describe it yet,” he said, adding that it was an “awesome feeling.”
Nguyen praised the pope’s words and said the Holy Father showed a great understanding of American culture.
Michael Pierz from the Diocese of Springfield said the pope’s homily gave everyone great encouragement “to carry the Christian banner of peace and joy.” Pope Benedict is a great inspiration to seminarians who are pursuing their vocations to the priesthood, he said.
Pierz and Nguyen were also torch bearers and during the consecration, they and other altar servers knelt in front of the altar.
“We were representative of the light of Christ,” Pierz said. “We can all bring that back to the diocese. So I hope to bring that same joy and that same spirit of Christ’s love and Christ’s sacrifice and his gift to us back to the archdiocese.”
The cardinal appointed Scot Landry, the archdiocese’s Secretary for Advancement, to coordinate the one-day pilgrimage to New York.
Landry told The Pilot that the trip was an excellent way to commemorate the bicentennial and that the Archdiocese of New York was very generous in giving 3,000 tickets to Boston.
“It’s just tremendous that we could have so many people go,” he said. “Whenever they called our name, we could all get loud.”
On the way back to the busses, Alissa Doherty, a 19-year-old from St. Peter Parish in Dorchester, told The Pilot that the theme of papal visit, “Christ Our Hope,” means “to have faith in something more.” She added that she appreciated the pope’s words directed to the youth.
“It perked my ears when he said young people are the future of the Church,” she said.
Rebecca Sullivan, a junior at Montrose School in Medfield, said of his words, “I felt he was talking directly to me.”
Sullivan added that the pope’s homily challenged young people by telling them, “You can’t let your youth pass you by. You have a responsibility in life and in the Church.”
Elizabeth Mahoney, a teacher at Montrose, said the Holy Father’s words challenged all Catholics and called on them to build up the unity of the Church.
“It’s a grace and a responsibility,” she said of the pilgrimage. “By being here I’m called to be part of that unity, that new hope -- the hope the pope brought to us.”