Courtesy of: New York Daily News:
Pope Benedict departs after celebrating Mass at Yankee Stadium
BY LARRY McSHANE, MELISSA GRACE, STEPHANIE GASKELL and CORKY SIEMASZKO DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS
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The clouds parted, the sun broke through and Pope Benedict's last day in New York City turned out heavenly after all.
Benedict capped his historic three-day visit to the city on Sunday by celebrating Mass at Yankee Stadium before an ecstatic crowd of 57,000. He stood before the devoted just hours after comforting a small group of 9/11 families and survivors during the first papal visit to Ground Zero.
"Thanks a million, Holy Father!" Edward Cardinal Egan said, holding up a vestment he had been given by the Pope - and speaking for a grateful city.
Benedict's Mass at the Stadium was the biggest event of the Pope's trip to the United States, where he also made history by becoming the first pontiff to celebrate Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral and visit an American synagogue.
The prayers of many who took part in Sunday's Mass were answered when the darkness and gloom that dogged the Pope's steps earlier in the day gave way to blue skies by the time he arrived in the Bronx.
Inside the Stadium, the faithful chanted Benedict's name and waved handkerchiefs of white and gold - the Vatican colors - when the Popemobile appeared in the outfield.
"I'm just so excited to be here," said Sister Mary Regina, a Dominican nun from Texas who was sitting in the right-field bleachers. "It's so amazing."
Philip Giordano of Greenwich, Conn., noted how the ads on the outfield wall were draped in white with purple-and-gold bunting, and how the papal seal covered the pitcher's mound. "I have never seen Yankee Stadium so beautiful, and I have season tickets," he said.
Calling the Mass "a summons to move forward with firm resolve to use wisely the blessings of freedom," the Pope reiterated core messages: that faith has a place in public life and abortion is wrong.
Several times during his U.S. pilgrimage, Benedict expressed shame for the pedophile priest scandal that has rocked the church, but he steered clear of that subject at the Mass - although there were clear signs outside Yankee Stadium that this remains a festering wound.
Among scores of people pressing against metal barricades outside the Stadium were some protesters decrying the sex scandal.
Vice President Cheney saw the Pope off Sunday night when he departed for Rome from Kennedy Airport, saying, "You stepped into the history of our country in a very special way."
The pontiff greeted the raucous crowd packing Hangar 19, including four Brooklyn and Queens schoolchildren who gave him flowers and a replica of a stained-glass window that hangs in the Cathedral Basilica of St. James in Brooklyn. With outstretched arms, the Pope left followers with a final heartfelt plea: "May God bless America."
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Benedict watchers called the papal visit a success.
"I think he made a very good impression on American Catholics and the public," said papal biographer David Gibson.
While Benedict is not a religious rock star like his Polish predecessor, Pope John Paul II, "People were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt," Gibson said. "Benedict was just himself, and that was more than enough."
Even before he set foot on U.S. soil, Benedict shocked his flock by insisting he was "deeply ashamed" of the sex abuse scandal and vowed to keep pervert priests off the altar. He met privately with some of the victims and scolded the bishops for mishandling the crisis.
Benedict, who turned 81 while in Washington, was greeted at the White House on Wednesday with a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday." He gave America a papal blessing and then met privately with President Bush, where he restated the Vatican's opposition to the war in Iraq.
When Benedict arrived in New York on Friday, Mayor Bloomberg and 4 million Catholics were waiting to embrace him.
With a smile on his face, Benedict hugged the city right back. He was greeted with a standing ovation at the United Nations and then went where no pontiff had gone before - down the center aisle of an American synagogue.
At St. Patrick's on Saturday, Benedict again touched on the pedophile priest scandal and exhorted his bishops to "strive to respond with Christian hope to the continuing challenges that this situation presents."
The Pope specifically limited attendance at that Mass to the Catholic clergy, although a few select others - including former Mayor Rudy Giuliani - had seats inside.
Benedict continued to wow New Yorkers after the Mass by taking to the streets in the Popemobile. He was cheered and serenaded by tens of thousands of Catholic faithful and other curious New Yorkers lining Fifth Ave.
Later in the day, the Pope blessed a group of disabled children and addressed a rally of 25,000 young Catholics at a Yonkers seminary.
Perhaps the most poignant moment of the papal pilgrimage came before Sunday's Mass, when Benedict descended into The Pit at Ground Zero and lit a candle in remembrance of the 2,750 people killed there when the twin towers collapsed.
"It was just amazing to be able to shake hands with the Pope," FDNY Chief of Department Salvatore Cassano said.
Wherever he went, Benedict traveled amid an unprecedented level of security. Thousands of police officers were deployed. Secret Service agents prowled all the major events. Sharpshooters manned the rooftops, and special spy submarines even patrolled the waters.
Gov. Paterson said Benedict's visit to New York was "flawless" and commended Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly for pulling it off.
"It's great to know this great event was not marred by any obstacles and barriers," he said.
With Bill Hutchinson