THE MONTHS of anticipation, the disappointment of last year's postponement and the seemingly endless hours of preparation for a papal visit culminated Sunday in a day that was as splendid as it was spiritual. From the Mass at Camden Yards under glorious October skies to an ecumenical evening prayer service at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, Pope John Paul's visit to Baltimore not only paid tribute to history but also pointed toward a future full of possibilities.
At Camden Yards, the pope praised the example of religious and civic tolerance built into Maryland from its colonial beginnings. Last night, addressing ecumenical and civic leaders, he built on that message to commend Baltimore's tradition of inter-faith cooperation and dialogue. Religious freedom, he reminded us, is essential to true freedom. And true tolerance is "based on a conviction that God wants to be adored by people who are free."
Despite his criticisms of excessive secularism and materialism that seem so much a part of 20th century American culture, Pope John Paul seems drawn to the optimism of the New World, especially the enthusiasm and sense of unbounded horizons of children and youth. Continuing themes he sounded in New York and New Jersey, Pope John Paul II commended the generosity of Americans and the missionary spirit that has helped to make American Catholicism a forceful presence throughout the world. Yesterday, he called upon young people to consider a missionary vocation.
He also praised Maryland's contribution to Catholic education, citing the fact that Baltimore was the site of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton's Catholic school, the first in America, as well as the site of the first Catholic women's college, the 100-year-old College of Notre Dame of Maryland, and the country's first Roman Catholic seminary, St. Mary's.
Asked recently what the visit of Pope John Paul II to Baltimore would mean to him, Cardinal William H. Keeler observed that the presence of a pope is something that transcends the ordinary. He was right. Yesterday was no ordinary day -- for Catholics or for other Marylanders who share their commitment to family, community and the value of faith.
The pope's visit offered lessons and inspiration to modern-day Marylanders, as they travel toward a future that sometimes seems fraught with confusion and threatened by change. In giving his blessings to Baltimore, Pope John Paul reminded us all that the lessons and faith of ages past contain comfort and wisdom for a seemingly uncertain future.