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Pope Addresses US Clergy, Calls for Purification, Renewal, Hope

Pope Benedict told American Catholic clergy and nuns on Saturday that the Church in the United States must work to overcome its divisions, saying this is a time of "healing" and "purification," after the sexual abuse scandal that has damaged the Church. From New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

The pope arrived at New York's famed St. Patrick's Cathedral to a joyous and warm welcome.

But his speech to the 3,000 clergy and nuns, as well as some laypersons, was serious. He returned again to the sexual abuse scandal that he addressed earlier in the week. He said priests who did nothing wrong have been unfairly tainted by the scandal. More than 4,000 clergy have been accused of molesting young people in the United States since 1950.

"Here I simply wish to assure you, dear priests and religious, of my spiritual closeness as you strive to respond with Christian hope to the continuing challenges that this situation presents," he said. "I join you in praying that this will be a time of purification for each and every particular Church and religious community, and a time for healing."

The pontiff also encouraged them to cooperate with bishops as they continue to work to resolve the issue.

Although the number of Catholics in the United States is growing - there are more than 64 million - the number of men and women entering vocational life is down significantly. In his homily, the pope offered encouragement and gratitude to those who devote their lives to God.

"All of you have a special place in my heart," he added. "Never forget that you are called to carry on, with all enthusiasm and joy that the Spirit has given you, a work that others have begun, a legacy that one day you too will have to pass to a new generation. Work generously and joyfully, for he whom you serve is the Lord!"

On the fifth-day of his first U.S. visit, which has taken him to Washington and New York, the 81-year-old pontiff looked happy but tired at the start of Mass. But by the end of the more than two-hour service, he seemed rejuvenated by the presence of so many priests and nuns.

The Mass reflected the diversity of New York's Catholic community, with prayers offered in African, European and Asian languages.

It was the first time a pope has celebrated Mass at St. Patrick's. Memorializing the occasion, Pope Benedict presented Cardinal Egan with a silver chalice for the 150-year old Cathedral.

Outside St. Patrick's, thousands lined the streets to get a glimpse of the pontiff.

Later Saturday, Pope Benedict will attend a rally for more than 20,000 young people, including 300 seminarians, just outside the city. He will also meet young people with disabilities and their caregivers. Before departing for Rome on Sunday, he will visit Ground Zero - the site of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center - and then say Mass before 60,000 people at Yankee Stadium.