Washington, New York in pope's plans

Ground zero visit and Mass in stadiums are set.

Published November 13, 2007

BALTIMORE - Pope Benedict XVI will travel to the United States for the first time as pontiff next year to meet with President Bush, address the United Nations and visit ground zero, a Vatican official told American bishops Monday.

The pope also will celebrate Mass at the new Nationals Park stadium and Yankee Stadium during the April 15-20 visit to Washington and New York, according to Archbishop Pietro Sambi, Vatican ambassador to the United States.

The announcement comes as the 67-million-member American church is grappling with a priest shortage and an often alienated flock, and is still recovering from the clergy sex abuse crisis. American dioceses have paid more than $2-billion in settlements with victims since 1950.

"It's a shot in the arm for the U.S. Catholic Church, which is enduring one of the most protracted crises in its history," said Scott Appleby, a University of Notre Dame historian who specializes in religion. He said the Catholic community in the United States "badly needs a renewed sense of its own vitality and its historic legacy in the country."

Benedict will convene separate national meetings with Roman Catholic priests, Catholic university presidents and diocesan religious educators, and leaders of other religious groups.

The visit coincides with the third anniversary of Benedict's election to succeed Pope John Paul II on April 19, 2005.

Benedict will also be in the United States during a presidential election year, and his public events could inadvertently become public relations vehicles for candidates or political parties. His pilgrimage to the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York is meant to show "solidarity with those who have died, with their families and with all those who wish an end of violence and in the search of peace," Sambi said.

Fast facts

The pope's visit

April 16: Reception with President Bushat the White House.

April 17: Mass at Washington's Nationals Park and separate meetings with Catholic educators and leaders of other faiths.

April 18: Address to United Nations in New York.

April 19: Meetings with priests and members of religious orders in New York.

April 20: Visit to ground zero and Yankee Stadium Mass before leaving the country.