By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Officially confirming Pope Benedict XVI’s visit next spring to the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the pope’s nuncio, said that the visit could mark a rebirth of the church in the United States after the trauma of the sexual abuse crisis – “less about the suffering of the past, and more about the program of the future,” he said.
The visit, which will take Benedict to Washington, D.C., and New York, will take place April 15-20, 2008. The announcement ended speculation that Benedict XVI might add other destinations such as Boston to his schedule.
Sambi noted that given the range of dates, Benedict will celebrate both his 81st birthday (April 16) and the third anniversary of his election as pope while in the United States.
The energy generated by the papal visit, Sambi said, could mark a turning point for a church recently gripped by crisis.
“We should issue an invitation to return for those who have left the church. The church is still the church of Jesus Christ, of the gospel, and of the mission entrusted by Jesus Christ to his apostles,” Sambi said.
Sambi said the visit will also be an occasion to deepen the bonds of communion both among the bishops themselves, and also between the bishops and the pope.
Sambi announced today the following schedule for Benedict XVI’s pastoral visit:
Benedict XVI arrives in the afternoon.
Morning: Official welcome at the White House
Afternoon: Address to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Morning: Mass at the new sports stadium in Washington, D.C.
Afternoon: Meeting at the Catholic University of America with educational leaders
Morning: Address to the United Nations
Afternoon: Ecumenical meeting
Morning: Concelebration with priests of New York and from across the country in St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Afternoon: Session at the Seminary of the New York archdiocese organized by the seminarians
Morning: visit to Ground Zero
Afternoon: Returns to Rome