NEW YORK – Admirers saw an unusually personal side of Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday when he ad-libbed a reference to his faults and later spoke of the “sinister” Nazi regime that was the backdrop of his youth.
The passages uttered by the pope were remarkable in their frankness and came as the German-born theologian observed the third anniversary of his election as pontiff.
On the penultimate day of his six-day pilgrimage to the United States, Benedict presided over Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan and exhorted members of a depleted priesthood to overcome hurtful divisions and act “as beacons of light” in the service of the church. Later in the day he turned his attention to the next generation of church leaders, telling a huge youth rally of the “limitless expanse of the horizons of Christian discipleship.”
“The spires of St. Patrick’s Cathedral are dwarfed by the skyscrapers of the Manhattan skyline,” the pope, in gold-encrusted miter and robes, said in the homily, “yet in the heart of this busy metropolis, they are a vivid reminder of the constant yearning of the human spirit to rise to God.”
At the end of the Mass, a visibly moved pope rose and delivered an impromptu message in halting English, describing himself as a “poor successor” to St. Peter who counts on the love and prayers of his followers to fulfill his daunting mission.
“I will do all possible to be a real successor to St. Peter, who also was a man with his faults and sins, but who remains finally the rock for the church,” Benedict said. “I can only thank you for your love of the church, for the love of our Lord and that you give also your love to the poor successor of St. Peter.”
Later Saturday, Benedict offered a glimpse of his personal background when he addressed seminarians at the St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers and urged them to overcome “activities and mindsets which stifle hope.”
“My own years as a teenager were marred by a sinister regime that thought it had all the answers; its influence grew, infiltrating schools and civic bodies, as well as politics and even religion, before it was fully recognized for the monster it was,” he said. “It banished God and thus became impervious to anything true and good.”