Pope Benedict’s Nationals Park Mass Led by Knights
Proclaiming that “Americans have always been a people of hope,” Pope Benedict XVI said in his homily at Washington Nationals Park April 17 that the Church in America and the nation as a whole must face with hope and fidelity the challenges that lie ahead.
A major challenge for the Church is for Catholics to live out the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and commit “their lives to the new evangelization” of American culture and hand on the faith pure and whole to the young, he said.
A challenge for America, amid “a time of great promise,” he added, is to resist “signs of alienation, anger and polarization … increased violence, a weakening of the moral sense; a coarsening of social relations, and a growing forgetfulness of God.”
The pope delivered his homily in English and then added words in Spanish that drew a loud response from the many Hispanics in the crowd.
Knights Lead the Way
A 50-man honor guard of Fourth Degree Knights led the opening procession into the stadium that was packed with 46,000 of the faithful who came from hundreds of parishes to be with the Holy Father during his first visit to the United States as pope.
The Sir Knights processed in groups, entering the field from behind home plate, which was covered with the papal coat of arms. They then moved in formation along the third-base line, across the covered infield and into centerfield. One group of Knights led some 232 bishops, and another group trailed the processing members of the hierarchy. Hundreds of priests also were seated in the outfield around the canopied altar, located at the deepest part of centerfield.
It was first non-baseball event in the stadium’s short history. Located along the Potomac and affording sweeping views of the Capitol and other D.C. landmarks, the recently opened stadium is home to the Washington Nationals, the latest addition to Major League Baseball.
Before the Mass, Fourth Degree member George Koch from Archbishop Wood Assembly in Philadelphia said he was “humbled and awestruck” to be in the procession with the Holy Father. “I don’t get awestruck that easily, but that’s the only way I can describe what’s happening here,” he said.
At 9:33, under a bright, cloudless sky, the Popemobile entered the park from an opening in the centerfield wall to a standing ovation. As the vehicle rolled slowly about the perimeter of the field, Benedict set off a papal version of The Wave, with people roaring applause and waving Vatican flags when he passed each section of seats. The choir sang “Tu Es Petrus” and “Holy God We Praise Thy Name” during the pope’s tour, which returned to the bullpen for the Holy Father to vest for Mass.
The liturgical procession with servers and deacons began from the home team’s dugout, as U.S. cardinals and selected archbishops preceded the pope to the altar. The choir sang “All Creatures of Our God and King.” The Holy Father ascended the steps to the stage and kissed the altar that was designed by two college Knights from The Catholic University of America and constructed by a Maryland deacon who is also a Knight.
After Pope Benedict opened Mass with the sign of the cross, Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington stepped to the lectern, facing the Holy Father. He said that the pope’s visit was a time of “spiritual renewal” for the archdiocese and the whole Church in America.