Pope Benedict XVI leaves Washington Friday for New York City, marking the second leg of his inaugural U.S. tour. Several times during the visit, he has addressed the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests - a scandal that has rocked the church. On Thursday, he made history by meeting with a group of victims for the first time. VOA's Alex Villarreal reports.
Pope Benedict XVI held an emotional meeting Thursday in Washington with a small group of people who were sexually abused by American clergy members.
Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the current archbishop of Boston, where the scandal was first reported, accompanied the victims to the meeting at the Vatican embassy.
In a statement, the Vatican says the pope offered the group encouragement and hope and promised to pray for them, their families and all victims of sex abuse.
Earlier the pontiff had used his open-air mass in Nationals Park to once again address the scandal. More than 45,000 people filled the stands of the major-league-baseball stadium as the pope encouraged them to help in the healing process.
"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," said Pope Benedict XVI. "These efforts to protect children must continue."
Later in the day, the pontiff addressed a group of Catholic educators at Catholic University of America, the national university of the Catholic Church in the United States.
The pope focused his address on the search for truth, saying truth could only be discovered through faith.
He praised the American educators for their dedication but cautioned against the use of academic freedom to justify positions that contradict the teachings of the Church.
"Teachers and administrators whether in universities or schools, have the duty and privilege to ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice," said the pontiff. "This requires that public witness to the way of Christ, as found in the Gospel and upheld by the Church's Magisterium, shapes all aspects of an institution's life both in and outside the classroom. Divergence from this vision weakens Catholic identity."
Following his address, the pontiff hosted an interreligious gathering at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington. The meeting included representatives from five of the world's major religions - Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Jainism.
Addressing the group, the pope encouraged religious freedom and praised government initiatives promoting interfaith dialogue.
"May the followers of all religions stand together in defending and promoting life and religious freedom everywhere," said the pope. "By giving ourselves generously to this sacred task - through dialogue and countless small acts of love, understanding and compassion - we can be instruments of peace for the whole human family. Peace upon all you!"
The gathering marked Pope Benedict's last scheduled event in Washington. On Friday, he will visit the United Nations Headquarters in New York and hold an ecumenical prayer service at Saint Joseph Parish with an estimated 250 Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic leaders.