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Pope Benedict XVI Holds Prayer Service & Delivers Major Speech on Issues Faced by Catholic Church in America

Aired April 16, 2008 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Pope Benedict XVI is leading a prayer service at the basilica next to Catholic University here in Washington. This is a moving prayer service.
Let's listen in, as we continue our live coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(MUSIC)

BLITZER: Father David O'Connell, president of Catholic University, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Explain what we're seeing and what we're hearing, Father.

REV. DAVID O'CONNELL, PRESIDENT, CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY: Those in the front row there are the cardinals of the American church, beginning with Cardinal DeNardo (ph), who is the youngest.

And what we're doing right now is, it's a celebration of evening prayer or what is called vespers. And it consists of the greeting. The pope's prayed, oh, God come to my assistance, in Latin. He sang that. And then there are three psalms from the Old Testament that are recited side to side. And that's what they're doing now. They're chanting those psalms at the present moment.

BLITZER: And we should some music that you were telling me was really almost like his theme song.

O'CONNELL: It really was. As he came into the church, the choir was singing "Tu es Petrus" -- "You are Peter" -- "And, upon this rock, I will build my church." That's the great commission given to Saint Peter, the first pope and the one that has been handed down in history to the present moment.

And that's always chanted at some point during a papal visit.

BLITZER: And this is the scene at the basilica of National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception here in Washington, D.C.

Delia Gallagher, as this prayer service continues, the pope will be getting ready for what is being described as a major address to American bishops, I guess, almost all of whom have gathered here at the basilica.

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN FAITH AND VALUES CORRESPONDENT: It's an important address. This morning, we heard him at the White House kind of addressing Americans in general. But this is the first time he gets to address his Catholic Church in the United States, and, in particular, the leaders of that church. And, as we know, for the last few years, there has been a lot of turmoil in the Catholic Church.

And it seems anyway, based on the pope's remarks yesterday on the plane, that he is not going to shy away from addressing that, because I think he understood that he needs to do that. I mean...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You're referring to the sexual abuse by priests.

GALLAGHER: The sex abuse scandal and the whole aftermath. And I think, you know, as much for the Catholic Church, as for the victims, I think he wants to say, we take responsibility. That was his phrase yesterday -- we are deeply ashamed. And that's significant.

O'CONNELL: People need to understand, the bishops are the primary cooperators with the pope. They are the successor -- successors of the apostles. And that's why their role within the Catholic Church is so important.

The pope exercises primary jurisdiction and universal jurisdiction over the church, but these are the men who are ordained to serve in a special way, to lead, to teach, to govern in their diocesan regions.

BLITZER: The fact that he's going to address this issue now directly, the issue of sexual abuse, here at the basilica in Washington, D.C., in the United States of America -- and we have viewers watching in the U.S. and around the world right now -- what, if anything, should we read into this, this sensitive subject being raised during this visit to the United States?

Does he discuss this during other visits to other countries? Because we know there have been plenty of reports of sexual abuse, whether in Germany, or in Poland, or Italy or elsewhere as well.

GALLAGHER: Yes, he hasn't done it to this extent. He discussed it with the Irish bishops when they came over to Rome for their visit to him. But that's on a much smaller scale.

I think if anything, it tells you about the person of Pope Benedict, that he is somebody who is direct, who tries to go right to the heart of the matter, and offer his analysis of the situation and offer healing. That's what he said that he has come here to do, in part. It's a positive trip. It needs to be put in a positive light, but there was something he understood he needed to deal with first. And I think that's the way to interpret whatever he's going to say about it.

BLITZER: Father O'Connell, was he under pressure to do this, or do you think he decided this is just the right thing to do? In other words, were Americans -- American Catholics urging him, you know what, talk about this?

O'CONNELL: Yes, I think people have been saying that for years. They have been waiting to hear something from the pope about this terrible experience, this terrible crisis.

But I don't think he's responding to pressure here. I think he's responding to what he feels most deeply. I thought his words on the plane were very, very significant, the fact that he took that question. He didn't have to take that question. That was pre- submitted. And that he spoke in English indicated his -- his particular concern for how the situation really has affected the church in the United States.

GALLAGHER: You know, the rest of his remarks on the plane were that, when he read the stories of the victims, he couldn't understand how this could have happened.

So, we also should remember that under John Paul II, when the scandal first broke in 2002, the office for investigating a lot of these cases was put under the office of then Cardinal Ratzinger. So, he is very familiar with the whole situation. And I think this is his opportunity finally to be able to comment on that.

BLITZER: And for those viewers who might not be aware, Cardinal Ratzinger is now Pope Benedict XVI.

GALLAGHER: Absolutely.

O'CONNELL: You know, another thing that should be kept in mind, why this is important at this juncture in this particular address, because many people in the church fought not only the priests who committed these terrible acts, but the bishops who allowed this to continue.

The accusation was made that they had knowledge of it and still transferred the priests from parish to parish.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: That they covered up, in effect.

O'CONNELL: And that's what people feel so strongly about. And that's why it's important that the pope say this. He lances this boil in the presence of the bishops of our country.

BLITZER: And you were noting there was one bishop there whose job it is really to excommunicate Catholics from the church.

O'CONNELL: Well, all bishops have that authority to do.

And, at one point, we saw a shot of Archbishop Burke, who is the archbishop of Saint Louis, and within recent months and in his experience as bishop, that has been something that he has used in a sense to try to bring Catholics around.

GALLAGHER: But we should say, Wolf, this isn't all about the sex scandal. That's something that I think the pope wants to address, but the larger picture for him is also encouragement, I think, of the American Catholic Church and the American priesthood.

He said better to have good priests than many priests. And that is something that I think he's very concerned about also, is the seminaries, the priesthood.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Is there a shortage right now of priests?

GALLAGHER: There is a shortage in vocations, yes.

But I think the pope's point is, let's band together, understand what our identity is, which we will probably hear more about tomorrow at Catholic U., and put things into a positive light for the Catholic Church, and how do we understand ourselves as a church.

O'CONNELL: Don't you think, Delia, this pope in particular has been really more of a person who's not just -- who doesn't just want to focus on what the church is against, but also what the church is for?

And that's why I think this visit is so important and why his -- the positive tone that he will set will be important for all people to hear.

BLITZER: And his remarks, as we're seeing these live pictures from the -- inside the basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, that's why this speech that he's about to deliver will be so different from the one he delivered at the White House earlier today, which really was, from his perspective, a celebration of his love of the United States of America, and freedom and democracy. He spoke really in glowing words.

O'CONNELL: You know, you have to understand, here, he has the attention to reach all of his cooperators within the United States. So, this venue is so terribly important.

BLITZER: The bishops, you mean?

O'CONNELL: The bishops. This is so terribly important to him, as pope. He's the leader of the College of Bishops throughout the world. And so, he has a significant segment of our church here.

BLITZER: This prayer service could go on for a while, Father O'Connell, or does it look like it's wrapping up?

O'CONNELL: I think we might be in the third psalm at this point. There will be a reading, a response. There will be the "Canticle of the Blessed Mother," some prayers of intersession, conclusion, and a blessing by the pope, and then he will move into his address.

BLITZER: Is this a unique series of prayers, if you will, in honor of this occasion? Or is this -- O'CONNELL: Actually not. This is the prayer of the church, the Liturgy of Hours that all priests and deacons and bishops, when they're or ordained, they take on that obligation to say this Liturgy of the Hours throughout the day. And this is the evening prayer of that, what we call the breviary, or the divine office.

GALLAGHER: It's actually something that's very common in a lot of Catholic communities.

You think of the Benedictines, where Pope Benedict takes his name from St. Benedict, who founded the Benedictines. And they're famous for their liturgies during the day, their vespers, and their singing. This is something that a lot of Catholic order communities, they do five times a day.

O'CONNELL: And this is the choral office. Now, you mentioned the Benedictines. And there are Dominicans and other religious orders who have a special obligation not only to say this pray, but to sing this prayer.

Most of us priests during the course of the day, obviously, we're not going to be sitting by ourselves singing like this, but we're all obliged to this prayer as priests.

BLITZER: And it's a moving ceremony. The music is obviously very, very extraordinary.

And you were telling us, Father O'Connell, that he would like to say more of this traditional music come back to the Catholic Church here in the United States?

O'CONNELL: Yes, I think so. I think it's evident.

And the pope has said it's not that he's not trying to return to the past, but he's trying to open up opportunities to people -- for people who feel this is an important way to pray. The way that was traditionally held by the church, that was lost for a while, is now being recovered, reintroduced.

It's not for everybody, but it is for some. And for those who like it, who want it, for those whom it helps in their spiritual life, the pope wanted to make sure they had the opportunity to pray in this manner.

GALLAGHER: I think a lot of younger Catholics don't even know Latin liturgies or any of this music. It's not something certainly that I grew up with, for example.

And, so, anybody sort of born after 1970, this is kind of new to them. And I think that the pope thinks it's important to reintroduce it in a certain way, with an eye towards the future of just keeping the church, left and right, liberal and conservative, together in some way, because, of course, the heart of the church is this mass, the celebration that they do every Sunday.

So, I think that's kind of where his long-term goal is, trying to bring some of this back to mix in with the new stuff.

BLITZER: All right.

Let's enjoy and listen to what is really going on at the basilica.

(MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jesus, because he remains forever, has a priesthood that does not pass away. Therefore, he is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he forever lives to make intercession for them.

It was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, higher than the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifice day after day, first for his own sins and then for those of the people. He did that once for all when he offered himself.

(MUSIC)

BLITZER: Father O'Connell, update our viewers in the United States and around the world where we stand now in this prayer service over at the basilica.

O'CONNELL: Well, we just had a reading from the letter to the Hebrews and a sung response. At this point, we will sing the antiphon and go into the magnificat, which is the prayer of the blessed mother, when she was told that she would conceive Christ in her womb.

"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord."

BLITZER: And the woman who delivered that, who was that woman who we just heard from?

O'CONNELL: You know, I didn't recognize her, but I'm presuming she's a staff member from the Conference of Bishops.

BLITZER: Is that normal, to see a woman deliver that kind of letter at that particular -- this kind of service?

O'CONNELL: It would be normative for sure.

(CROSSTALK)

O'CONNELL: In a sense, it would be something that they would want to do, because it's a male audience, it's male bishops. And to incorporate women into the liturgy is a very, very important thing, and very important to the pope.

BLITZER: It's not just normal in the United States, Delia, but you have seen it elsewhere? Would you see it at the Vatican, for example?

GALLAGHER: Yes, you would. You would see women doing the readings. That was considered a reading, and the women would be able to do that.

And -- but, you know, it's one of the big issues in the Catholic Church, women and their authority in the church and their participation in these liturgies. But, certainly, at the Vatican, they have women that participate in the readings. They don't have women altar servants.

BLITZER: Tell us what we're seeing now, Father.

O'CONNELL: This is the incensation of the altar. The altar there represents the person of Christ, the body of Christ. And use of incense is in a sense really an addition of solemnity to show the holiness of this moment and the holiness of that edifice, that table.

The table is the central element of the Eucharist. And it's around the table that all Christians gather to celebrate the mass, the commemoration of Christ's death and resurrection, and the celebration of his body and blood given to us.

GALLAGHER: It goes back to "The Last Supper," doesn't it?

O'CONNELL: It does.

GALLAGHER: That's the significant of the table and Jesus around the table. We have all seen the beautiful picture of Jesus and his disciples around the table in da Vinci's "Last Supper."

BLITZER: And where is he going now?

O'CONNELL: He's walking back to the chair.

And after this hymn, we will have a few intercessory prayers. The "Our Father" will be sung probably, and then there will be a conclusion and a blessing.

BLITZER: And then -- is it then that he will deliver his remarks?

O'CONNELL: Yes. And I'm not sure whether the pope will go back into the sacristy first and take the special vestments off, and come back just in his white cassock. So, that may actually happen, which might delay us a little bit before the address.

BLITZER: And the address is a carefully, carefully written address, Delia. You were telling us he writes these speeches by himself. He's a scholar.

GALLAGHER: He does. I think that it's important to him that the words are his own. And you can tell, because he has a sort of style which is fairly direct and some very elegant ways of putting things, but without sort of glossing over any points.

So it's always interesting to see what he says, because I think he delivers things that are a little bit unexpected sometimes. It's not the usual church-speak, as it were, that doesn't really resonate. He has an ability to go straight to zero in on an issue. O'CONNELL: I don't think there's a lot of accidental phrases that the Holy Father -- this Holy Father uses. He is a brilliant man. And I think, when he writes, he writes with a specific idea in mind and he wants that communicated and communicated clearly.

BLITZER: And you're saying he would write the speech in German, and then someone else or he would translate it?

O'CONNELL: Yes. Ordinarily, the pope, whatever his background would be, would write it in his own language, because that's obviously the language he's most comfortable with, and then would pass it off to -- right, Delia -- to some staffers, who would help.

GALLAGHER: Right. In the Secretariat of State, they have a whole language section that translates. Anything the pope ever says and any document that ever comes out is translated into about five or six languages.

BLITZER: I haven't heard a lot from this pope in English, but certainly this morning in the speech he delivered at the White House, there's a nice German accent there, but clearly he's very fluent in English. He understands this language. He speaks it well.

GALLAGHER: Well, I think the German helps. There's nothing like German grammar. And I think that he's able to certainly make his way in English. He does have a strong accent and may not feel entirely comfortable sometimes in English, but he's able to be understood.

O'CONNELL: The one thing I have noticed in my few conversations with him over these things that I have been at Catholic University, he has a sense of nuance.

When you speak to him, he understands. Also, he's got a very subtle, but a nice sense of humor as well. He can appreciate the humor in situations and things. And that's a piece of Pope Benedict or Cardinal Ratzinger that I think most people wouldn't appreciate.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

POPE BENEDICT XVI: ... open for us the way to everlasting life. Let us ask the Father, through the victory of Christ, to save the people he has redeemed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God of our fathers, you raised your son, Jesus, from the dead and clothed him in glory. Move our hearts to complete repentance.

CONGREGATION: That we may walk in the newness of life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have led us back to the shepherd and bishop of our soles.

CONGREGATION: Keep us faithful under the guidance of the shepherds of the church.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You chose the first fruits of Christ's disciples from the Jewish people.

CONGREGATION: Reveal to the children of Israel the fulfillment of the promise made to their forefathers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Remember, the lonely, the orphaned and the widowed.

CONGREGATION: And do not abandon those who have been reconciled with you by the death of your son.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You called Stephen to your presence when he bore witness to Jesus, standing at your right hand.

CONGREGATION: Welcome our deceased brothers and sisters who in faith and love hoped for the vision of your glory.

POPE BENEDICT XVI: God our Father, life of the faithful, glory of the humble, happiness of the just, hear our prayer. Fill our emptiness with the blessing of the Eucharist, the fortress of eternal joy.

We ask this through our lord, Jesus Christ, your son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

CONGREGATION: Amen.

(MUSIC)

BLITZER: This prayer service is now wrapping up.

Father David O'Connell, the president of the Catholic University, tell our viewers what's going on now.

O'CONNELL: The pope is going up to reverence the altar. As I said earlier, that's the representation of Christ in the liturgical experience of the church.

And now what the Holy Father will do will be, he will go back into the sacristy. He will take off these liturgical vestments. And then he will come back out to address the bishops.

BLITZER: In other words, he take off some of those garments.

O'CONNELL: He will take off the gold cape, the coat that he's wearing and the miter that he's wearing. And he will relax the cross that he's carrying, and he will just come out and speak to them in his ordinary white cassock.

BLITZER: So, he will go away for a few moments and maybe relax a little bit, too, because he's got a long speech he's got ahead of him.

O'CONNELL: Well, the sacristy of the shrine is not much of a place for relaxing. I will tell you that. He's probably just going to take the vestments off, maybe take a drink of water, wash his hands, and then come back out.

BLITZER: And you have seen this, Delia? Delia Gallagher, the Vatican analyst, you have seen these services often?

GALLAGHER: Oh, absolutely. One thing people don't realize is the kind of schedule that a pope has to keep up, even when he's at home at the Vatican. And, you know, every Wednesday, he comes and gives what they call an audience. So, if anybody's in Rome, they can go to the Vatican and see the pope and listen to him. And, again, he writes his talk for that.

Every day, he meets with different heads of state, with different people that are working in the Vatican and other people that want to meet him. And then there's usually some kind of ceremony on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday that he participates in. Certainly during Easter, which we have just had --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Very similar to this.

(CROSSTALK)

GALLAGHER: ... always very busy.

BLITZER: What's unusual in this is, as he leaves for, at least a few moments, to take off those garments, the outer garments, all those bishops inside, any one of whom could be leading a prayer service like this, but they're just sort of in the pews, at least during this service.

O'CONNELL: That's for sure. They're participants in -- and I think very happy to be participants.

BLITZER: It's a major moment in their lives. If you're a cardinal, if you're a bishop, this is a thrilling moment for these bishops as well.

O'CONNELL: It really is. It's a great experience for them, a great moment for them.

You know, I know myself, even at the university, I'm very happy when I don't have to lead everything. It's good to take a backseat every once in a while and just be an observer.

BLITZER: All right.

I think this is a good moment for us to take a quick break and to promise our viewers we are going to continue our special coverage of Pope Benedict's visit to the United States and his address that's coming up here at the basilica here of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception -- much more coverage right here in THE SITUATION ROOM after this short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let me set the scene for our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer here in THE SITUATION ROOM and we're watching Pope Benedict XVI get ready for what is a major address that he's going to be delivering momentarily here at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

We're joined by father David O'Connell, the president of Catholic University, and Delia Gallagher, the Vatican analyst.

As we wait for the pope to come back and deliver this speech -- and it's going to be a major speech that will deal with, arguably, Father, the most sensitive issue on his journey here to the United States, the scandal involving sexual abuse by priests.

O'CONNELL: I'm wondering what's in the minds of these bishops right now, because no one has seen this speech. It hasn't been vetted, it hasn't been sent over, it hasn't been presented for anyone's review. So I wonder if there is, in their own experience, a little nervousness about that particular aspect, what the pope is going to say about that.

BLITZER: Presumably, a major speech like this, Delia, he would consult with American bishops, American cardinals, no?

GALLAGHER: No.

BLITZER: Why?

GALLAGHER: Because that's the way Pope Benedict is. He is a person, who, I think, generally, prefers to, yes, listen to the bishops -- and he's certainly done that throughout the years. But when it comes to what he wants to say and his analysis of the situation, I don't think he's going to give his speech to anybody and say what do you think?

I think he's listened to people and made his own assessment. And that's why everyone's so interested to hear, because you'll know that that is really what he thinks about the issue. It's not what a committee thinks about it.

O'CONNELL: And it may be that he might say to some of his closest collaborators, perhaps Cardinal Bertoni (ph), for whom he is the secretary of state or some others, you know, here's what I think about this, here's what I think about that.

But there's no question at all that the pope does author his own work and that he really doesn't feed it out for critique.

BLITZER: But this theme that he began to discuss yesterday on the flight to the United States from Rome, that he is ashamed of what has happened, not only here in the United States, with these stories that all of us now know of priests sexually abusing young people and others, this theme is going to be amplified in these remarks that are about to be made.

O'CONNELL: Well, as Delia mentioned earlier, it was to the congregation over which he presided as prefect that the authority was given. So he's quite family with the situation and quite familiar with the cases. And so he understands, I think, very clearly what has gone on.

BLITZER: Delia, when Father O'Connell says this will be potentially controversial with American bishops, all of whom have gathered here at the basilica, what does that mean?

GALLAGHER: You know, I think it's a good thing for people to see that for the last few years there's been so much turmoil about this issue. And I think it's good for everybody -- Catholics and non- Catholics -- to see the pope talk to his bishops, because this is a very public thing. I mean he could have avoided the topic and he's not going to. And I think that that's an important part of what he wants to accomplish, which is the healing of this situation. And that's why it seems he's going to tackle it.

BLITZER: And here he comes right now. He's back and there's applause.

Is that extraordinary for inside the basilica to hear applause?

O'CONNELL: Actually, applause has become more and more commonplace in the last 10 or 15 years.

BLITZER: I assume he knows many of these bishops personally, as well, right, Delia?

GALLAGHER: They come over to Rome. They have annual, biannual -- every two years.

O'CONNELL: Yes. The quinntennial (ph) visit. Every five years the bishops throughout the world are required to make a visit to the pope to talk to him about the status of their dioceses and their regions. They prepare a written report first. It's sent over. And then they have an opportunity, usually just 10 or 15 minutes, to talk to the people (INAUDIBLE).

GALLAGHER: And a lot of them would have known him as cardinal, as well.

O'CONNELL: Absolutely. Absolutely.

BLITZER: And here, he's getting ready to deliver his remarks. He'll do so sitting. This is a long speech.

Let's listen in as the microphones are placed in front of Pope Benedict the XVI. And we'll all hopefully better understand where he's coming from.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Holy Father, to this Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Mary Immaculate is the patroness of our country. And with all our hearts, we thank you for visiting us and for addressing us in her house.

Our conference includes 193 ordinaries, two coadjutor bishops, 71 auxiliary bishops and 168 bishops retired from pastoral governance, but not from Episcopal ministry.

There are, in the United States, 195 dioceses and eparchies. Because of the bonds of ecclesial communion, you are not a foreign visitor, but a father and a friend in Christ. You know us from our many visits and from meetings, from letters and exchanges such as this. You, therefore, not only know who we are, but are aware of the context of our service as bishops of the Catholic Church in the United States today.

We find great encouragement in meeting you here, finding anew the vicar of Christ, the successor of St. Peter and the visible head of our college and the visible focus of Catholic communion.

We are sure that the priests and deacons, consecrated created men and women and the Christian faithful of this country will also take courage from your visit.

It takes courage at any time and at any place to profess one's faith in Christ from within his body to the church.

Before the Constitutional order that for freedom of religion was established here, it was forbidden in the British Empire to celebrate the mass publicly. The founding of our nation was there for welcomed by our first bishop, John Carroll, even as he recognized that popular acceptance of Catholicism did not automatically follow from its legal recognition.

Bishops have served the church in the United States for over 200 years and the context of their ministry and of Catholic life here was often one of suspicion.

Our faith was not pure, our church was unbiblical, our allegiances uncertain. In our own day, the consequences of the dreadful sin of sexual abuse of minors by some priests and of its being sometimes very badly handled by bishops makes both the personal faith of some Catholics and the public life of the church herself more problematic.

Your recent encyclical letter on hope clarified the object of our hope in God and spoke, as well, of the smaller hopes that mark our lives as individuals and as a people. You pointed out that people's hope is betrayed if its object is a purely secular utopian scheme. We have our own utopian schemes here, Holy Father, different from the history of fascism and communism that you traced in your letter.

We hope that you will speak to us about constructing here a hope filled people and show us how to give our people, and especially our beloved priests, hope in the present moment.

Holy Father, it is not only Catholics who need to hear of hope. Our country is in the midst of a great debate not only about whom we will elect as political leaders, but also about our place in the world. The 2001 terrorist attack on our country, done in the name of God, has led many to conclude that organized and doctrinal religion is inevitably a source of social violence. American attempts to contain and prevent any further attacks have brought limitations on personal liberty that are new to our history. We speak as much about security as we do about liberty.

Many Americans do not understand why we are regarded with such suspicion by so many others around the world and the anger of the moment makes public discussion of central problems frequently intemperate.

Holy Father, the church rejoices here in her cultural diversity. But it's troubled by ideological differences that weaken not only our witness to the world, but the life of faith itself -- how to include and love all of the faithful, while being clear about the demands of discipleship, especially when those demands seem restrictive of sexual freedom, is a constant pastoral challenge to the bishops and other pastors.

Our Episcopal conference has recently identified the strengthening of marriage and of family life as one of five priorities for our common attention in the next several years. The other four are protecting the life and dignity of the human person at every stage of life's journey; handing on the faith in the context of sacramental practice and the observance of Sunday worship; fostering vocations to ordained priesthood and consecrated life; and profiting from the cultural diversity of the church here, especially from the gifts of Hispanic Catholics.

The Catholics of this country join us in welcoming you, Holy Father. May our men and women, boys and girls, who love the lord and find him in the church, they know that true religion is rooted not in fear, as secularists assert, but in love. They are, with their fellow Americans, people who take joy in being generous and in that characteristic imitate the lord himself and make God's image strong in our society. They, too, will be grateful for your words of encouragement and hope.

Holy Father, we respectfully ask that you address us now.

(APPLAUSE)

POPE BENEDICT XVI: Dear brother bishops, it gives me great joy to greet you today at the start of my visit to this country. And I thank Cardinal George for the gracious words he has addressed to me on your behalf.

I want to thank all of you, especially the officers of the Episcopal Conference, for the hard work that has gone into the preparation of this visit. My grateful appreciation goes also to the staff and volunteers of the National Shrine, who have welcomed us here this evening.

American Catholics are noted for their loyal devotion to the Sea of Peter. My pastoral visit here is an opportunity to strengthen further the bonds of communion cituniutus (ph).

We began by celebrating evening prayer in this basilica dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a shrine of special significance to American Catholics right in the heart of your capital city. Bless us and pray of us, Mary, mother of Jesus, we lovingly comment to Heavenly Father the people of God in every part of the United States. For the Catholic communities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and elsewhere, this (INAUDIBLE) particular celebration as it marks the bicentenary of the establishment of these local churches as dioceses. And showing and giving thanks for the many graces granted to the church during these two centuries.

And this year also marks the bicentennial celebration of the founding of Baltimore to an archdiocese. It gives me an opportunity to recall this admiration and gratitude is alive and the ministry of John Carroll, the first bishop of Baltimore, a (INAUDIBLE) leader of the Catholic community in your newly independent nation.

His tireless efforts to spread the gospel in the vast territory under his care laid the foundations for the ecclesial life of your country and enables the church in America to grow to maturity.

Today, the Catholic community itself is one of the largest in the world and one of the most influential. How important it is, then, to let your light so shine before fellow citizens and before the world, that they may see your good works and give glory to your father, who is in heaven.

Many of the people that John Carroll and fellow bishops were ministering to centuries ago had traveled from distant lands. The diversity of their origins is reflected in the rich variety of ecclesial life in present-day America. Brother bishops, I want to encourage you and your communities to continue to welcome the immigrants that join your ranks today, to share their joys and hopes, to support them in their sorrows and trials, and to help them flourish in their new home. This, indeed, is what your fellow countrymen have done for generations.

From the beginning, they have opened their doors to the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to break free. These are the people whom America has made her own.

Of those who came to build a new life here, many were able to make good use of their resources and the opportunities that they found and to attain a high level of prosperity. Indeed, the people of this country are known for their great vitality and creativity. They are also known for their generosity. After the attack on the Twin Towers in September 2001 and again after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Americans displayed their readiness to come to the aid of their brothers and sisters in need. On the international level, the contributions made by the people of America to relief and rescue operations after the tsunami of December 2004 is a further illustration of its compassion.

Let me express my particular appreciation for the many forms of humanitarian assistance provided by American Catholics and Catholic Charities and other agencies. Their generosity has borne fruit in the care shown to the poor and needy. And it's energies that has gone into building the nationwide network of Catholic parishes, hospitals, schools and universities. All of this is great cause for thanksgiving. America is also a land of great feats. Your people are remarkable for their religious fervor and they take pride in belonging to a worshipping community. They have confidence in God and they do not hesitate to bring moral arguments through to the biblical face into the public discourse.

Respect for freedom of religion is deeply ingrained in the American consciousness -- a fact which has contributed to this country's attraction for generations of immigrants seeking a home where they can worship freely in accordance with their beliefs.

In this connection, I happily acknowledge the presence among you of bishops from all also venerable Eastern churches in communion with the successor of Peter, whom I greet with special joy.

Dear brothers, I ask you to assure your communities of my deep affection and my continued prayers both for them and for the many brothers and sisters who remain in their land of origin. Your presence here is a reminder of the courageous witness to Christ of so many members of your communities, often amid suffering in their respective homelands. It is also a great enrichment of the ecclesial life of America, giving vivid expression to the church's Catholicity and the variety of liturgical and spiritual traditions.

It is in this treacherous soil, nourished from so many different sources, that all of your brother bishops are called so the seeds of the gospel today (ph).

This leads me to ask how in the 21st century a bishop can best (INAUDIBLE) to call to make all things new in Christ our hope.

How can he lead his people to an encounter with the living God that is also the life-transforming hope of which the gospel speaks?

Perhaps he needs to begin by breaking away some of the barriers to such an encounter. While it is true that this country (INAUDIBLE) a genuinely religious spirit, the (INAUDIBLE) influence of secularism can never (INAUDIBLE) people allow (INAUDIBLE).

Is it consistent to resolve beliefs in church on Sunday and then during the week to promote business practices or medical procedures contrary to these beliefs?

It is consistent for practicing Catholics to ignore exploits of poor and the marginalized, to promote sexual behavior contrary to Catholic moral teaching or to the positions that contradicts the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death?

Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted. Only when service permits every aspect of their lives do Christians become truly open to the transforming power of the gospel. For an affluent society, a first obstacle to an encounter with the living God lies in the secular influence of materialism, which can all too easily focus the attention on the hundredfold, which (INAUDIBLE) now in this time, at the expense of the eternal life, which he promises into each to come. People today need to be reminded of the ultimate purpose of their lives. They need to recognize that implanted within them is a deep thirst for God, the need to be given opportunities to drink from the wells of his infinite love. It is easy to be entranced by the almost unlimited possibilities that science and technology press before us. It is easy to make the mistake of thinking we can obtain by our own efforts a fulfillment of our deepest needs. But this is an illusion.

Without God, for long this does upon us but we be ourselves cannot attain, our lives are ultimately empty. People need to be constantly reminded to cultivate a relationship with him who can (INAUDIBLE) of life in abundance.

The goal of all our pastoral and Catholic work (ph), the object of our preaching and the focus of our sacramental ministry should be to help people establish and nurture that living relationship with Christ Jesus, our hope.

In a society which values personal freedom and autonomy, it is easy to lose sight of our dependence on others, as well as the responsibilities that we bear toward them. This emphasis on individualism has even affected the church, giving rise to a form of piety which some times emphasizes our private relationship with God at the expense of our calling to be members of a redeemed community. Yet from the beginning, God saw that it is not good for man to be alone. We were created as social beings who find fulfillment only in love for God and for our neighbor.

If we are truly to gather from him, who is the source of our joy, we need to do so as members of the people of God. It seems countercultural that the simple further evidence of the urgent need for a renewed evangelization of culture.

In America, you are blessed with a Catholic life of considerable cultural diversity, who place their wide ranging gifts at the service of the church and of society at large. They look to you to offer them encouragement, leadership and direction. In an age that is saturated (ph) with information, the importance of providing sound formations of faith cannot be overstated.

American Catholics have traditionally placed a high value on a religious education, both in schools and in the context of adult formation (ph) programs. These need to be maintained and expanded.

The (INAUDIBLE) men and women who devote themselves to charitable activity need to be helped to renew that education through a formation of the heart and encounter as God in Christ, which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others.

At a time when advances in medical science bring new hope to many, they also give rise to previously unimagined ethical challenges. This makes it more important than ever to offer several formations of the church's moral teaching to get Catholics engaged in health care. Wise guidance is needed in order to promote so that they may bear abundant fruit. If they are truly to promote the integrity of the human person, the true need to be made new in Christ, our hope. As preachers of the gospel and leaders of the Catholic community, you are also called to participate in the exchange of ideas in the public square, helping to shape cultural attitudes. In a context where free speech is valued and where vigorous and honest debate is encouraged, yours is a respected voice that has much to offer to the discussion of the pressing social and moral questions of the day.

By ensuring that the gospel is clearly heard, you not only inform the people of your own community, but in view of the global reach of mass communication, you help to spread the message of Christian hope throughout the world.

Clearly, the church's influence in public debate takes place on many different levels. In the United States, as elsewhere, there is much current and proposed legislation that gives cause for concern from the point of view of morality. And the Catholic community under your guidance needs to offer clear and united witness on such matters.

Even more important so is the cardinal (ph) opening of the minds and hearts of the wider community to moral truths. Here much remains to be done. Crucial in this regard is all of the lay people to act as a levin (ph) in society. It cannot be assumed that all Catholics citizens think in harmony with the church's teaching on today's key ethical questions.

Once again, it falls to you to ensure that the moral information provided at every level of ecclesial life reflects the authentic teaching of the gospel of life.

BLITZER: Pope Benedict the XVI speaking at the basilica here in Washington, D.C. .

We're going to continue to monitor his words. You can continue to watch on CNN.com. The speech is being streamed there live, CNN.com.

Delia Gallagher, this is sort of the entire -- the entire spectrum of what he came to the United States to discuss.

GALLAGHER: There's a lot packed into this speech, Wolf. And, really, it requires a little bit of time to kind of read it all. But he's gone through most of the spectrum of what he thinks are the top issues. And primarily something about responsibility with all this great freedom that we have, it also brings responsibility toward other people.

And it's interesting that in this moment of an election year -- and we have all of the election news going on. The pope said he wanted to bring a moment of reflection. And that's what he's done.

BLITZER: And remember, CNN.com. You can continue watching the pope's remarks.

We're going to have to leave it right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou?