As a native of the Bronx, Edwin F. O'Brien once dreamed of taking the field at Yankee Stadium. Yesterday, he had his chance.
"I finally made it," Baltimore's archbishop said before joining Pope Benedict XVI yesterday at the fabled ballpark in New York. O'Brien was one of several American bishops and priests with the pontiff at the Mass commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
"It underlines, as if we didn't know it, we're not living in our own little world," O'Brien said. "We're connected to a large communion of faithful."
The Mass was the third and last of Pope Benedict's first papal visit to the United States. Hours after a solemn visit to Ground Zero, he told a joyful crowd of more than 57,000 to use their God-given freedom wisely.
"Each day, throughout this land, you and so many of your neighbors pray to the Father in the Lord's own words: 'Thy kingdom come,'" Pope Benedict said. "This prayer needs to shape the mind and heart of every Christian in this nation. It needs to bear fruit in the way you lead your lives and in the way you build up your families and your communities."
Returning to a theme he sounded throughout his visit - a challenge to Roman Catholics to bring their faith into the public square - he spoke of the "unchanging truths" of Jesus Christ, which guarantee respect for the "inalienable dignity and rights of each man, woman and child in our world - including the most defenseless of all human beings, the unborn child in the mother's womb."
He praised the American Catholic Church, which he called "outstanding in its prophetic witness in the defense of life, in the education of the young, in care for the poor, the sick and the stranger in your midst," and concluded with a message to the nation's young: "Open your hearts to the Lord's call to follow him in the priesthood and the religious life."
Worshipers chanted, clapped and waved handkerchiefs of yellow and white - the colors of the Vatican - as a smiling Pope Benedict entered in the Popemobile.
Ad-splashed outfield walls were draped in white with purple and yellow bunting. A white altar perched over second base, and the papal seal covered the pitcher's mound, suspended by white and yellow ribbons.
"I have never seen Yankee Stadium so beautiful, and I have season tickets," said Philip Giordano, 49, a tax attorney from Greenwich, Conn., who won seats in the loge section behind home plate through a parish lottery. "It sure beats sitting in my local church."
Pope Benedict celebrated the Mass in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the decision of Pope Pius VII to elevate the Diocese of Baltimore to the status of archdiocese, and to split off the new Dioceses of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Bardstown, Ky., which is now the Diocese of Louisville.
The pontiff called it a "watershed in the history of the church in the United States: its first great chapter of growth."
"We think of the successive waves of immigrants whose traditions have so enriched the church in America," he said. "We think of the strong faith which built up the network of churches, educational, health care and social institutions which have long been the hallmark of the church in this land.
"We think also of those countless fathers and mothers who passed on the faith to their children, the steady ministry of the many priests who devoted their lives to the care of souls, and the incalculable contribution made by so many men and women religious."
Earlier, on a chilly, gray morning, Pope Benedict blessed the site of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, and pleaded with God to bring "peace to our violent world."
Addressing a group that included survivors, clergy and public officials, he acknowledged the many faiths of the victims at the "scene of incredible violence and pain."
The pope prayed also for "those who suffered death, injury and loss" in the attacks at the Pentagon and in the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa. More than 2,900 people were killed in the four crashes of the airliners hijacked by al-Qaida.
"God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world," the pope prayed. "Turn to your way of love those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred."
Pope Benedict invited 24 people with a connection to Ground Zero to join him: survivors, relatives of victims and four rescue workers. He greeted each member of the group individually as a string quartet played in the background. In his prayer, he remembered those who "because of their presence here that day, suffer from injuries and illness."
New York Deputy Fire Chief James Riches, the father of a fallen Sept. 11 firefighter, said the visit gave him consolation.
"We said, 'Where was God?' on 9/11, but he's come back here today and they've restored our faith," Riches said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.