Pope takes whirlwind tour of N.Y.

Visits Ground Zero, St. Patrick's Cathedral

Capping a six-day pilgrimage to the United States, Pope Benedict XVI made a weekend blitz of Gotham that included stops at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Saturday and a Sunday Mass before some 57,000 people at Yankee Stadium.

Earlier Sunday, the Pope stopped to bless Ground Zero, site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and to pray for both the victims and the perpetrators of the attacks, asking that “those whose lives were spared may live that the lives lost here may not have been lost in vain.”

Sunday’s Yankee Stadium Mass, which included crooner Harry Connick Jr. on the pre-Mass concert program, was a hot ticket, even by Gotham standards. Admission was provided gratis through local parishes, but the archdiocese felt obligated to order parishioners not to turn around and sell their free tickets. The warning didn’t take: a Staten Island-based entrepreneur raked in $400 for a pair of papal passes two days before the Mass.

On Saturday, with church bells ringing high above their heads, a multiracial, multinational crowd thronged around St. Patrick’s to see the pope.

Escorted by an NYPD motorcade, ambulances and a helicopter drowned out at times by cries of “El Papa!,” the Popemobile slowly made its way down Fifth Avenue to the cathedral, where the pontiff delivered a homily that touched on the most controversial subjects to arise during his three-year tenure as head of the Catholic Church.

He spoke to the congregation about his conscription into the German army and subsequent desertion during World War II. He also condemned the priests involved in the recent child molestation scandals, many of whom have been protected from legal action by the church. Benedict met with the abuse victims themselves in Washington last Thursday.

The pope’s visit to the U.S. was marked by careful calls to action that never criticized any one country’s foreign policy specifically.

“It is inconceivable, then, that believers should have to suppress a part of themselves — their faith — in order to be active citizens,” he said at the United Nations in a Friday speech on human rights. “By respecting the person, peace is promoted.”

The pope was scheduled to leave Sunday evening via JFK Airport on Shepherd One, a Boeing 777 borrowed from Alitalia for the occasion.

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