04/17/2008, 00.00
VATICAN – UNITED STATES
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The world needs people bearing witness and Catholic culture, says Pope

In his first public Mass in the United States Benedict XVI speaks about the “pain” caused to the Church by pedophile priests. With President Bush yesterday he jointly expressed concern for the Middle East, especially Iraq and Lebanon, and hope for an end to the Israel-Palestinian conflict with a two-state solution. The Vatican also refers to the need to respect human rights in the fight against terrorism.

Washington (AsiaNews) – The world, and with it the Church, are living at a time “of great promise”, but one that also shows signs of a “breakdown” in the very foundations of society. It is a situation that needs bearing “witness” of faith and fidelity, a way to think, a “culture” that is truly Catholic, capable of meeting the challenges of secularism and materialism. The Pope said this and more in the first public Mass of his US trip which he celebrates at a Nationals Park stadium in Washington filled to capacity.

Yesterday, on the first day of his visit, he met President George W. Bush, voicing concern for the great issues that today affect the world, from the need to defend life to the crises in the Middle East.

Today, the Holy Father spoke to US Catholics to remind them of the need to bear “witness” but also to express the pain of the entire Church for the crimes of pedophile priests.

“No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse,” he said to the Catholic community, which is “called to grow in unity through constant conversion to Christ”.

“The world,” he insisted, “needs this witness! Who can deny that the present moment is a crossroads, not only for the Church in America but also for society as a whole? It is a time of great promise, as we see the human family in many ways drawing closer together and becoming ever more interdependent. Yet at the same time we see clear signs of a disturbing breakdown in the very 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 God. The Church, too, sees signs of immense promise in her many strong parishes and vital movements, in the enthusiasm for the faith shown by so many young people, in the number of those who each year embrace the Catholic faith, and in a greater interest in prayer and catechesis. At the same time she senses, often painfully, the presence of division and polarization in her midst, as well as the troubling realization that many of the baptized, rather than acting as a spiritual leaven in the world, are inclined to embrace attitudes contrary to the truth of the Gospel.”

But many more are those who have remained faithful. And it is to them that Benedict XVI spoke when he stressed the need to face “the challenges raised by an increasingly secular and materialistic culture”. Success “will depend in large part upon your own fidelity in handing on the treasure of our Catholic faith. Young people need to be helped to discern the path that leads to true freedom: the path of a sincere and generous imitation of Christ, the path of commitment to justice and peace. Much progress has been made in developing solid programs of catechesis, yet so much more remains to be done in forming the hearts and minds of the young in knowledge and love of the Lord. The challenges confronting us require a comprehensive and sound instruction in the truths of the faith. But they also call for cultivating a mindset, an intellectual ‘culture,’ which is genuinely Catholic, confident in the profound harmony of faith and reason, and prepared to bring the richness of faith’s vision to bear on the urgent issues which affect the future of American society.”

Some of these issues like marriage, family, the defence and promotion of life, were discussed in both the private talks Benedict XVI held with President Bush and in the meeting he had with US bishops.

In a joint Vatican-US statement both sides pointed out that discussions with the US leader also touched upon other “common interest[s]” like religious freedom, rejection of terrorism and any violence committed in the name of God.

In the statement some situations were singled. The two sides in fact expressed hope in a solution to “the Israel-Palestinian conflict in line with the vision of two states living side-by-side in peace and security.” They also voiced their “support for the sovereignty and independence of Lebanon” and “concern” for the situation in Iraq, especially for the precarious conditions in which Christian communities find themselves, both in this country and across the entire region.

It is also noteworthy to point out that on Vatican request the statement in a not so subtle reference to the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo declared that the fight against terrorism had to be conducted by means that “respect the human person and his or her rights.”

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