By John-Henry Westen

  VATICAN CITY, April 30, 2008 ( – Speaking to thousands gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the weekly general audience, Pope Benedict XVI remarked at length about his visit to the United States from April 15-21.  “I had the opportunity to pay homage to that great country, which from its beginnings was built on the foundation of a harmonious union between religious, ethical and political principles,” he said.

  In the context of “moral and social questions of the day,” particularly around marriage of a “man and a woman”, the Holy Father noted that “contradictions” in the US “threaten the coherence of Catholics and even of the clergy.”  He said he urged the Bishops to press on with defending marriage as “a gift and an indissoluble commitment between a man and a woman, the natural environment in which to welcome and educate children.”

  Recalling one aspect of his mission in addressing education, the Pope said, “The Church and the family, as well as schools must co-operate in offering young people a solid moral education.”

  While his remarks were delivered in Italian, the Pope provided a summary of his reflections in English in which he noted, “My visit was meant to encourage the Catholic community in America, especially our young people, to bear consistent witness to the faith.”

  The aspect of the trip which seemed to strike the Pope most was the Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.  “I will never forget”, he said, “with how much warmth they congratulated me for the third anniversary of my election to the See of Peter. It was a moving moment, in which I particularly felt the support of all the Church for my ministry.”