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 CNS Story:

SHRINE-GEORGE Apr-16-2008 (460 words) xxxn

Bishops' president says U.S. church finds great hope in pope's visit

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The bishops, priests, deacons and laypeople of the United States "find great encouragement" in the visit of Pope Benedict XVI, the president of the bishops' conference told the pope April 16.

"Because of the bonds of ecclesial communion, you are not a foreign visitor but a father and friend in Christ," Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George said shortly before the pope addressed the gathering of bishops at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Cardinal George offered a bit of U.S. church history, explaining that before the adoption of the First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of religion "it was forbidden in the British Empire to celebrate the Mass publicly." The founding of the new nation was welcomed by the first U.S. bishop, John Carroll, though popular acceptance of Catholicism did not follow automatically from legal recognition, he said.

"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," Cardinal George said. "Our faith was not pure, our church was unbiblical, our allegiances uncertain."

He also spoke of recent challenges.

"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," he said.

Cardinal George said the pope's visit, as well as his recent encyclical, "Spe Salvi" (on Christian hope), bring hope to the United States.

"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 you traced in your letter.

Nor is it only Catholics who need to hear a message of hope from the pope, he said.

"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," he said. "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."

He also noted that limitations on personal liberty in the United States and the suspicion with which Americans are viewed by others around the world have added to the problems.

"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," he said.


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