Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Under the banner of a "hope for peace, for justice, for freedom" that cannot be realised "without obeying the law of God", the eighth international voyage of Benedict XVI began today, which will take him to the United States of America and to the headquarters of the United Nations.
The airplane with the pope on board took off from the airport of Fiumicino (Rome) at noon, and will arrive in Washington at 4:00 p.m. local time (8:00 p.m. GMT). At his arrival at the international airport of Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, Benedict XVI will be welcomed by President George W. Bush, together with the first lady. It is an unusual gesture for American protocol, and indicates the importance that the White House attributes to the papal visit, to which the American media are also devoting significant coverage.
The trip, which will continue until the 20th, includes among its most highly anticipated appointments the speech that the pope will give to the assembly of the UN on April 18, and the prayer that he will pronounce at Ground Zero on the 20th. It is expected that Benedict XVI will speak to the world leaders on topics that are dear to him, such as peace, respect for human rights, beginning with that of life, and also the necessity of modifying the lifestyles of rich countries in order to combat the negative effects of globalisation, of dedicating funds to development, and of fighting against disease.
The prayer for the victims of the attack on September 11 is expected to include an appeal for conversion of heart addressed to terrorists.
The other significant appointments include the Mass on the 17th at Nationals Stadium in Washington, and the meeting afterward with Catholic educators at The Catholic University of America. In New York there will be reflection on the difficult situation of the Catholic Church in the United States, which will emerge from the meetings on the 19th with priests and religious men and women at Saint Patrick's Cathedral, and with young people and seminarians at Saint Joseph Seminary. The pope, as cardinal secretary of state Tarcisio Bertone revealed in a television interview with Rome Reports, will talk about the scandal of sexual abuse on the part of priests, "calling for the united construction of a culture of moral integrity, of ethical perfection, and even of sanctity", and "will above all urge religious and consecrated persons to be an example for others". On Sunday the 20th, finally, there will be Mass in Yankee Stadium.
But these days will also have a "personal" character for the pope: tomorrow, April 16, he will celebrate his 81st birthday, and on April 19 the third anniversary of his election to the pontificate.
The visit of Benedict XVI to the United States can also be followed on the internet. The United States Bishops' Conference has created the site www.uspapalvisit.org, which will present all of the appointments of the trip.