The Pope and his addressing the issue of clergy and sexual abuse by priests.
VATICAN CITY -- In his final public appearance here before flying tothe United States, Pope Benedict XVI asked thousands of faithful inhistoric St. Peter's Square Sunday to pray that his six-day trip willusher in a "spiritual renewal for all Americans."
The pope -- who has characterized himself as a fan of the UnitedStates, if not always of its excesses -- said his journey to Washingtonand New York will chiefly be a pastoral visit, though he is not likelyto shy away from a handful of sensitive subjects. He is due to arriveat Andrews Air Force Base Tuesday afternoon.
Benedict addressed the cheering throng Sundayfrom the window of his papal apartment high atop the plaza. The appealfor prayers came during his traditional weekly blessing.
"Dear brothers and sisters, I ask you all to pray for the success ofmy visit, so that it may be a time of spiritual renewal for allAmericans," Benedict said. "Upon each of you present, I invoke theprotection and guidance of Jesus the Good Shepherd."
Among those gathered were some 40 U.S. seminarians from thePontifical North American College in Rome, along with American nuns nowliving in the shadow of Vatican City.
Waving American flags and carrying painted letters that spelled out"God Bless You," they were the loudest contingent in the sprawlingplaza, at one point breaking into a spirited Latin hymn meant to wishthe pope a long and healthy life.
"We wanted to give him a proper sendoff and let him know our prayersare with him," said Sister Doretta D'Albero, a former teacher atImmaculate Heart Academy in Washington Township, Bergen County. "Wecame to show our support."
D'Albero, a Connecticut native who has been working and living inRome for two years, said she was thrilled Benedict will be making hisfirst trip to the United States as pope. He visited five times as acardinal.
Greg Rannazzisi shared D'Albero's enthusiasm. The third-yearseminarian, one of more than 150 students at the pontifical college,said the pontiff will surprise Americans who think of him as a sterntaskmaster, given his previous position as the longtime guardian ofchurch doctrine.
"When they see him, they're going to see a man who's head over heelsfor God, who is a friend of God," said Rannazzisi, 25, who isoriginally from Rockville Centre, N.Y. "Everything he does is a productof that friendship, and his mission in the United States is to call onothers to be friends of God as well."
Benedict reinforced that idea during Sunday's brief address, whichfollowed prayers he spoke in several languages. His amplified voicecarried around the plaza, where families and pilgrims stoodshoulder-to-shoulder with tourists snapping photos.
"With the various groups I shall meet, my intention is to share ourLord's word of life," the pope, a native of Germany, said in accentedbut clear English. "Christ is the foundation of our hope for peace, forjustice, and for the freedom that flows from God's law fulfilled in hiscommandment to love one another."
Benedict, who turns 81 on Wednesday, will have a busy six days in the United States.
In addition to a private meeting with President Bush, he will give aspeech before the United Nations, preside over Masses in NationalsStadium and Yankee Stadium and meet several times with members of otherreligions and Christian denominations.
He also will visit Ground Zero, praying for both the victims of 9/11and the terrorists who carried out the attack, the Vatican has said.
One of the more controversial moments could come on Saturday, whenthe pope is expected to address the clergy sexual abuse crisis in aspeech before priests at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan.
He will return to Rome next Sunday night after a farewell ceremony at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
for a listing of alternate locations.