Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Benedict in America - EXCLUSIVE Rover Photos!

Yesterday I got back from a wonderful, whirlwind pilgrimage from South Bend to NYC to see the Holy Father during the Youth Rally on Saturday and at the Mass at Yankee Stadium on Sunday. It was an unforgettable weekend, and so spiritually invigorating!

Many have written that while John Paul II was the pope who people went to see, Benedict XVI is the pope who people go to hear. I understand what those who draw this distinction are trying to get at, but from my own experience, having been able to see both Benedict and his predecessor when they have come to America, there is always something moving about seeing the Holy Father in person. Something is different about this man, this successor to Peter and Vicar of Christ. You can hear it in what he says, and see it in his very presence.

Some have already called Benedict's Apostolic Visit to America a "turning point" in his papacy--I might tend to agree with that. Certainly it comes in continuity with his message and thought throughout the past three years--both Deus Caritas Est and Spe Salvi figured heavily in his message to America on this visit: "Christ Our Hope". But it seems as though this trip came as a pivotal moment for Benedict himself, as well as for Catholics in America. One friend with whom I shared my photos from the past weekend commented that he didn't recognize the Holy Father, upon seeing him in all the news coverage last week. Something about his demeanor and appearance had changed--he seemed younger, more vigorous.

I saw that myself, from the moment he eagerly deplaned "Shepherd One" last Tuesday. It seems as if his enthusiasm and strength only increased through the week. He was a spry, energetic 81-year-old to begin with, but as the week wore on, the man who once had said that he had perhaps made his last visit to America as cardinal several years ago now seemed to be bursting with energy. Those commentators last week who said that Americans should make the most of this Apostolic Visit because it might be both Benedict's first and last had better look at the energy and joy emanating from the holy man who graced our country with his presence these past several days.

So here begins my photo-essay of the Great Papal Visit of 2008. There are many, many more pictures where these came from, but I figured I'd include the highlights as best I could...

The small group of college women from Notre Dame and Saint Mary's with whom I traveled was fortunate enough to get tickets to the Youth Rally on Saturday. Although Benedict wasn't set to arrive until 4:30pm, we got there much earlier in the day, and spent most of our time sweating it out under the sun and waiting in line (3 hours!) for lunch. Meanwhile, we had entertainment from quite a varied group of entertainers--Mo Rocca (of VH1 "I Love the 90s" fame) emceed, while TobyMac, the Three Graces, and Kelly Clarkson headlined.

(I'm not really sure how Kelly Clarkson's crooning "Since U Been Gone" prepares one to welcome the Pope, but I guess I'm just a bit too old for a youth rally...)

A little after 4pm, when he had been slated to arrive, Pope Benedict entered the chapel of St. Joseph's Seminary to greet and speak to disabled children, as planned. It was a poignant, though short, prayer service, which we were able to watch from our seats on the field, via screens erected around the stage.

Excerpts from his message to children with disabilities. His reflection on suffering and what these children can offer to the world by their witness of faith is truly touching.:
God has blessed you with life, and with differing talents and gifts. Through these you are able to serve him and society in various ways. While some people's contributions seem great and others' more modest, the witness value of our efforts is always a sign of hope for everyone.

Sometimes it is challenging to find a reason for what appears only as a difficulty to be overcome or even pain to be endured. Yet our faith helps us to break open the horizon beyond our own selves in order to see life as God does. God's unconditional love, which bathes every human individual, points to a meaning and purpose for all human life. Through his Cross, Jesus in fact draws us into his saving love (cf. Jn 12:32) and in so doing shows us the way ahead - the way of hope which transfigures us all, so that we too, become bearers of that hope and charity for others.

Dear friends, I encourage you all to pray every day for our world. There are so many intentions and people you can pray for, including those who have yet to come to know Jesus. And please do continue to pray for me. As you know I have just had another birthday. Time passes!
Soon, he departed from the chapel in his Popemobile, to greet the crowds of thousands (I heard 20,000; it seemed like more) awaiting his arrival. When he finally made his way to the stage, where he was to participate in a prayer service and offer his remarks to the gathered youth, Benedict seemed surprised by the warm greeting he received. As his loud ovation lasted for minutes, the Holy Father seemed to bask in the moment, and walked to each corner of the stage to greet the seminarians and others gathered in front.

The prayer service opened with the singing--in German--of "Happy Birthday" to Benedict, who had celebrated his birthday a few days earlier, and celebrated the third anniversary of his election to the papacy on that very day. Various students from the Archdiocese of New York also presented the pontiff with gifts representing their various communities, and with six images of saints who had connections with the Archdiocese (including Mother Cabrini and Elizabeth Ann Seton, among others).

Finally, it was time for the Holy Father to address the gathered youth! As one of my companions on the pilgrimage remarked, this speech seemed to be the longest and most compellingly pertinent of all of his American addresses. He took his time to carefully craft what he would say to the youth of America, and said it with beautiful eloquence.

It wasn't often during the weekend that I heard much by way of extemporaneous speaking by Benedict, but he did go off the script on Saturday! After he finished reading his address to youth in English, the pontiff paused for awhile, then seemed ready to continue with the prayer service / youth rally. He began to rise from his seat, not noticing that the stationary microphone was still in front of him. A deacon rushed over to prevent it from being knocked over, and to remind the Holy Father that he wasn't finished. So Benedict somewhat sheepishly--with a chuckle and a grin!--took his seat once more and said to the cheering crowd "Oh, I forgot! The Spanish!".

Shortly afterwards, it was time for the pope (and for us!) to depart the rally at Dunwoodie. He made his departure in the Popemobile.

That evening became a blur of trying to exit the rally area, find our bus, and make our way to the high school where we would spend the night sleeping on the gymnasium floor.

The next morning, we got up early and boarded the bus at 8:15am, to head for Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. It was a dreary, cloudy, overcast morning; some of us feared rain.

While most of the group entered the stadium early, a friend and I had to take the subway into Manhattan to pick up our tickets at the Archdiocesan office. Until the day before the trip, we didn't know if we'd have tickets for the Mass, but some connections with Cardinal Egan led to our receiving *four* tickets to sit in the VIP field section at Yankee Stadium for the Mass! This should explain the stunning photos which are to follow...

Waiting outside of the stadium became a rather tiring, cold 2 1/2 hour-long experience. But it would all be worth it...

Once inside the packed stadium, we found our seats. Incredibly, we had tickets to sit in the infield in white folding chairs that had been set up for the occasion on the perimeter of the stage/altar area.

The "Concert for Hope" preceded the pope's arrival for Mass. Various choirs, Irish Tenor Ronan Tynan, Latino artist Jose Feliciano, and musician Harry Connick, Jr. all performed. The concert concluded with a rather interesting pre-liturgical interpretive dance and dove release. It's pretty hard to explain what it was like, and most of the people I talked to were torn between calling it "really cool" and "really strange".

Finally, Pope Benedict arrived at the stadium, and began by making his way around the stadium's perimeter in the Popemobile. Because of our awesome seats, I was able to stand right along the barrier which sat on the edge of the Popemobile's path. Check out this series of photos:

The Popemobile turns the corner, headed my way!

Coming closer...

There he is, but facing the wrong direction!

Here I should insert my own experience of the Pope's passing by. As the Holy Father approached, he was turned towards the stands (not the field), waving to and blessing the crowd. My three friends and I started waving and shouting "Holy Father! Holy Father!" to get his attention as he approached--even though the windows to the Popemobile were closed. What do you know--he turned our way!!

So instead of sticking my camera in my face and missing the moment, I simply continued to wave, yelled "Holy Father, I love you!" and *made eye contact*. He was smiling so warmly, and gazed down at me in the crowd while blessing me. It is truly a moment I will never forget--but I don't have any photographs to prove it.

Awesome shot of the inside of the Popemobile. Gotta love that icon!

Benedict exits the Popemobile, to head into the Yankees locker room ("sacristy") to get vested for Mass.

Meanwhile, we waited and continued to stand, wondering when he would come out and if it would be near us. Finally, some cardinals began to emerge from the locker room and lined up for the procession.

As I waited and hoped that he would come to the end of the line (near us!), Benedict sneaked out of the locker room and began to process in at the head of the line of cardinals.

The route which the Holy Father then took to get to the altar went right about 20 feet in front of where I was sitting. So while he processed in with the cardinals and bishops, I stood on a chair, camera in hand, and cheered him on. ("Holy Father, we love you! Holy Father, the Church needs you!"). Since he was so close, I got some pretty awesome pictures in the meantime:

(I don't have many other photos from during the Mass, because I was sort of busy with the beautiful worship and didn't find it appropriate.)

But all in all, the Mass was beautiful. Someone really did their liturgical homework! The music was wonderful--Palestrina and other 'classics,' including a beautiful sung version of the Gospel, while also incorporating Spanish elements which represented the diversity of the Archdiocese of New York while not losing track of the dignity of the liturgy. It was very tastefully done, and I hear quite different from the Mass in Nationals Park in DC in that regard.

Of course Benedict's homily was beautiful, deep, and exceedingly pertinent to the message--Christ Our Hope--of his Apostolic Journey and to the situation in America today. Read the whole text, at EWTN, if you haven't. And below are a few of my favorite parts...:

The first reading also makes clear, as we see from the imposition of hands on the first deacons, that the Church's unity is "apostolic". It is a visible unity, grounded in the Apostles whom Christ chose and appointed as witnesses to his resurrection, and it is born of what the Scriptures call "the obedience of faith" (Rom 1:5; cf. Acts 6:7).

"Authority" … "obedience". To be frank, these are not easy words to speak nowadays. Words like these represent a "stumbling stone" for many of our contemporaries, especially in a society which rightly places a high value on personal freedom. Yet, in the light of our faith in Jesus Christ - "the way and the truth and the life" - we come to see the fullest meaning, value, and indeed beauty, of those words. The Gospel teaches us that true freedom, the freedom of the children of God, is found only in the self-surrender which is part of the mystery of love. Only by losing ourselves, the Lord tells us, do we truly find ourselves (cf. Lk 17:33). True freedom blossoms when we turn away from the burden of sin, which clouds our perceptions and weakens our resolve, and find the source of our ultimate happiness in him who is infinite love, infinite freedom, infinite life. "In his will is our peace".

Real freedom, then, is God's gracious gift, the fruit of conversion to his truth, the truth which makes us free (cf. Jn 8:32). And this freedom in truth brings in its wake a new and liberating way of seeing reality. When we put on "the mind of Christ" (cf. Phil 2:5), new horizons open before us! In the light of faith, within the communion of the Church, we also find the inspiration and strength to become a leaven of the Gospel in the world. We become the light of the world, the salt of the earth (cf. Mt 5:13-14), entrusted with the "apostolate" of making our own lives, and the world in which we live, conform ever more fully to God's saving plan.


"You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people he claims for his own, to proclaim his glorious works" (1 Pet 2:9). These words of the Apostle Peter do not simply remind us of the dignity which is ours by God's grace; they also challenge us to an ever greater fidelity to the glorious inheritance which we have received in Christ (cf. Eph 1:18). They challenge us to examine our consciences, to purify our hearts, to renew our baptismal commitment to reject Satan and all his empty promises. They challenge us to be a people of joy, heralds of the unfailing hope (cf. Rom 5:5) born of faith in God's word, and trust in his promises.

Each day, throughout this land, you and so many of your neighbors pray to the Father in the Lord's own words: "Thy Kingdom come". This prayer needs to shape the mind and heart of every Christian in this nation. It needs to bear fruit in the way you lead your lives and in the way you build up your families and your communities. It needs to create new "settings of hope" (cf. Spe Salvi, 32ff.) where God's Kingdom becomes present in all its saving power.

Praying fervently for the coming of the Kingdom also means being constantly alert for the signs of its presence, and working for its growth in every sector of society. It means facing the challenges of present and future with confidence in Christ's victory and a commitment to extending his reign. It means not losing heart in the face of resistance, adversity and scandal. It means overcoming every separation between faith and life, and countering false gospels of freedom and happiness. It also means rejecting a false dichotomy between faith and political life, since, as the Second Vatican Council put it, "there is no human activity - even in secular affairs - which can be withdrawn from God's dominion" (Lumen Gentium, 36). It means working to enrich American society and culture with the beauty and truth of the Gospel, and never losing sight of that great hope which gives meaning and value to all the other hopes which inspire our lives.

And this, dear friends, is the particular challenge which the Successor of Saint Peter sets before you today. As "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation", follow faithfully in the footsteps of those who have gone before you! Hasten the coming of God's Kingdom in this land! Past generations have left you an impressive legacy. In our day too, the Catholic community in this nation has been outstanding in its prophetic witness in the defense of life, in the education of the young, in care for the poor, the sick and the stranger in your midst. On these solid foundations, the future of the Church in America must even now begin to rise!
During the recessional, the Holy Father took the route on the other side of the altar, and greeted the priests and bishops gathered there.

He headed back in my direction on the other side of the altar, because the 'sacristy' was still the Yankees locker room. This brought him close enough to get some phenomenal photographs!

After his exit, the bishops and cardinals spent their time hanging out in and near the Yankees dugout. Priceless photos below...

It was a beautiful weekend, and I'd do it again (even though it involved ~28 hours on a bus) in a heartbeat. Hopefully I will be able to provide more of my insights on the trip in the future.

God bless!


Anonymous said...

what an amazing trip! thank you for sharing your pictures and thoughts with us!

Anonymous said...

I wish I could have been there with you. Thanks for making me feel like I was.