(AFP) – Feb 15, 2008
WASHINGTON (AFP) — The US capital is gearing up for a visit in April by Pope Benedict XVI, who will celebrate his 81st birthday at the White House and say mass at a brand new baseball stadium.
"Benedict XVI is visiting the United States to confirm American Catholics in their faith, first of all," the Reverend James Massa, executive director of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' department of ecumenical and inter-religious affairs, told AFP on Thursday.
After Washington, Benedict will travel to New York, where he will "visit the United Nations as a messenger of peace and reconciliation," Massa said.
"A recurring theme in his pontificate is the role of religion in fostering peace, not as a basis for justifying violence," he said.
German-born Benedict XVI is scheduled to begin his first visit as pope to the United States on April 15 at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, where he will be met by President George W. Bush.
The following day -- his 81st birthday -- he will be received at the White House and pray at the largest Catholic church in North America, the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
The church sits majestically on a hilltop in northeast Washington, and was made a basilica in 1990 by Pope John Paul II.
Before Benedict joins some 400 bishops for evening prayer in the crypt sacristy of the church, he is expected to pray for a few moments at the oratory of Our Lady of Altoetting, named for a town in his native Bavaria which is known as the Lourdes of Germany.
The statue of Our Lady of Altoetting was dedicated in the basilica in Washington on April 16, 2005, the 78th birthday of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as the pope was known then.
Three days after the dedication of the statue, Ratzinger was elected pope by a conclave of bishops in Rome.
Work crews are feverishly putting the finishing touches to the Washington Nationals baseball stadium, on the banks of the Anacostia River, where the pope is scheduled to say mass on the morning of April 17 before more than 40,000 people.
Later the same day, he will address educators from 235 Catholic colleges and universities at the 193-acre (78-hectare) campus of Catholic University in Washington.
When John Paul II visited Catholic University in 1979, students hung a banner outside a dormitory that read "have a pope and a smile" -- a tongue-in-cheek play on a popular Coca-Cola slogan at the time.
From the university, Benedict will make his way down a tree-lined path to John Paul II Cultural Center.
In the glass-domed entrance hall of the architecturally stunning center, Benedict will dialogue with representatives of the Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and Sikh faiths.
Benedict will leave Washington on April 18 for New York, where he will say two masses, including one at the New York Yankee baseball stadium; address the United Nations, and visit Ground Zero, site of the main September 11, 2001 attacks.
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