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Pope Celebrates Outdoor Mass in US Capital


Pope Benedict XVI has celebrated an outdoor Mass for more than 45,000 people in Washington, D.C. The pope expressed concerns about problems in modern society and once again addressed the sex scandal that has rocked the church. VOA Correspondent Meredith Buel reports from Washington.

Tens of thousands of worshippers packed the stadium on a crystal clear day as Pope Benedict, dressed in scarlet vestments, arrived in the white popemobile. The pontiff led the service from a towering white and gold altar erected in a new baseball stadium.

Benedict told the crowd that the world is at a crossroads. On the one hand he says it is a time of great promise, but the pope says there are also clear signs of what he called a disturbing breakdown in the foundations of society.

"Signs of alienation, anger and polarization on the part of many of our contemporaries, increased violence, a weakening of the moral sense, a coarsening of social relations and a growing forgetfulness of Christ and God," said Pope Benedict.

Benedict says Americans have always been a people of hope and told the faithful their ancestors came to this country with the expectation of finding new freedom and opportunity.

But the pontiff says that promise was not fulfilled for all in America.

"One thinks of the injustices endured by the native American peoples and by those brought here forcibly from Africa as slaves. Yet hope, hope for the future, is very much a part of the American character," he said.

For the third consecutive day, Benedict spoke about the sex abuse scandal that has led to the removal of hundreds of priests and cost the U.S. church $2 billion in damages.

"It is in the context of his hope born of God's love and fidelity that I acknowledge the pain which the Church in America has experienced as a result of the sexual abuse of minors," he said. "No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse."

Pope Benedict says it is important that those who have suffered be given loving pastoral attention. He says he cannot adequately describe the damage that has occurred within the community of the Catholic Church in America.

"Great efforts have already been made to deal honestly and fairly with this tragic situation, and to ensure that children, whom our Lord loves so deeply, and who are our greatest treasure, can grow up in a safe environment," he said. "These efforts to protect children must continue."

Most Catholic dioceses in America now require criminal background checks on employees and have taught parents and children how to recognize signs of abuse.

Near the end of the Mass Benedict walked down from the altar to distribute Holy Communion.

At the conclusion of the two-hour service he blessed the cheering crowd and strolled through a multitude of the faithful who reached out to shake his hand or touch his robe.

For Catholics like Odianosen Igene it was a moving service.

"I am just thankful to God to be in the presence of the pope," said Igene. "This is my first time ever seeing a pope and it was something special. I felt very honored."

Marylou Francisco had a similar experience.

"It was wonderful," she said. "It was so peaceful. It was so great."

Pope Benedict will address the United Nations Friday in New York.

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