Here's a first person account from the Yankee Stadium Mass prepared for us by Monica Yehle, director of development for the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, and editor of MISSION magazine:
It was, without a doubt, a pilgrimage, a most sacred journey. Thousands huddled together, moving down roads. There was a reverence to the passing from point to point, a prayerful silence, an awestruck anticipation.
It was also downright Biblical. “Take nothing with you on the journey,” the Lord told his followers. I and the others awaiting entry into Yankee Stadium under dark and threatening skies on Sunday, April 20, had little with us, heeding the security-check warnings.
Inside there were more lines, for food, the bathroom (the ladies’ room, at least), and for “pope stuff” — everything from key chains to hats to magnets, all featuring Pope Benedict XVI, the reason we had made the journey. There was even a T-shirt with the player’s name as “Benedict” and the number, of course, “XVI.” (I bought that one for myself.) Waiting, people listened to music and song from the likes of Jose Feliciano and Harry Connick Jr., as well as the Harlem Gospel Choir and the Young People’s Chorus of New York City.
After the performances, there was a breathtaking display featuring dove-shaped kites and then the real birds, recalling the Holy Spirit in these days before Pentecost.
And then, Pope Benedict “took the field.” Riding in his popemobile from left field to just by first base, he passed along the edge of the stadium. We all waved bandanas of gold and white, the papal colors. Our thunderous cheering stood in juxtaposition to the relative quiet of our entry into the stadium. Suddenly in that moment, the clouds broke away, and the sun poured onto second base. There, at the altar, our Holy Father began the celebration of the Eucharist.
In his homily, the pope spoke of the Church’s fundamental unity in Christ. Reflecting the Sunday Gospel message, he talked of “real freedom” and its source in Jesus, who is “the way, truth and life.” He challenged us to “put on the mind of Christ,” and, in doing so, find strength to be “salt of the earth, light of the world.” “Harness all of your energies to be at the service of the Gospel,” he said. And, still carrying with him the joy of his time on Saturday with young people, he asked them, “Open your hearts to the Lord’s call. May you have the courage to proclaim Christ.”
I have been privileged in my 20-plus years of working for the Pontifical Mission Societies to meet both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI; the latter pope, just this past January at a general audience in Rome. But to be at a Mass celebrated by our Holy Father was a first, and an experience that brought me, at times, to tears. But they were tears of an overwhelming joy of being part of the universal family of the Church. With me at Yankee Stadium were members of our diocesan mission family, our Board of Directors, as well as the national office family members. All around me were brothers and sisters in faith from the United States and around the world.
Struck by the pope’s message earlier in his visit about prayer — his call to “immerse ourselves in prayer” — we in the Pontifical Mission Societies called for prayer intentions from our diocesan mission offices, as well as from the board of directors of the Catholic Press Association on which I serve. I even gathered such intentions from family and friends, and from the young people in my sixth-grade parish religious education class. During the Mass, at the Prayers of the Faithful, I read these silently to myself, having offered them as the intention of the Rosary I prayed before Mass began in Yankee Stadium on the Rosary given me by Pope Benedict during my January meeting with him. There were prayers for people who were ill, for families who needed healing, for those who had died, for our own country and world, in thanksgiving for blessings; the list inspired me as I read each one again.
As I left Yankee Stadium, spilling outside with my fellow pilgrims, I was resolved to even more in my daily life — at home, at work, in our world — follow the teacher who had witnessed the Master’s plan. Turn your hearts to God in prayer. Proclaim his hope. Live his love. Believe. Amen.