Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl answers questions from the media on the first day of the U.S. bishops' fall meeting in Baltimore Nov. 12. In remarks to the bishops earlier in the day, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the United States,  confirmed the dates of Pope Benedict XVI's trip to the U.S. and announced the pope's itinerary will include stops in Washington and New York. Archbishop Wuerl said the Archdiocese of Washington welcomed the news of the pope's visit "with faith-filled joy and enormous enthusiasm."CNS PHOTO/NANCY WIECHEC
Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl answers questions from the media on the first day of the U.S. bishops' fall meeting in Baltimore Nov. 12. In remarks to the bishops earlier in the day, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the United States, confirmed the dates of Pope Benedict XVI's trip to the U.S. and announced the pope's itinerary will include stops in Washington and New York. Archbishop Wuerl said the Archdiocese of Washington welcomed the news of the pope's visit "with faith-filled joy and enormous enthusiasm."CNS PHOTO/NANCY WIECHEC
Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl said he hopes Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the nation's capital next spring will deepen the faith of Catholics in the Archdiocese of Washington and give them new energy.

"Personally, I'm thrilled that he will be here and be with all of us," he said.

"There is so much renewal going on - among our young people, in the whole Church," he said. "His visit will be a reaffirmation of that. But also I'd like to think it's going to be a way of just re-energizing us."

He said he believes the emphasis of the pope's trip will be "on the renewal of the faith life of the Church."

Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the United States, announced the pontiff's April 15-20 visit to Washington and New York - billed as an "Apostolic Visit to the United States of America and to the Seat of the United Nations" - at the opening session of the U.S. bishops' national meeting in Baltimore Nov. 12.

Pope Benedict's main public event in Washington will be a Mass April 17 at the Washington Nationals' new baseball stadium.

Shortly after the nuncio spoke, Archbishop Wuerl told the Catholic Standard, "This visit will be an opportunity for all of us in the Church in Washington to show the Holy Father our affection, to show him our profound loyalty, but also to demonstrate to him how alive the Church in Washington is, how profoundly faith-filled the Church is."

He said he and other Church officials have been laying the groundwork for the visit since August, but he did not know for sure if it would happen until the nuncio officially announced the planned papal itinerary that morning.

The pope is to arrive in Washington April 15 and meet with President Bush at the White House the following day, which also happens to be the pope's 81st birthday. That afternoon he will address the U.S. bishops - probably at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Archbishop Wuerl said.

After the stadium Mass April 17, the pope is to meet with heads of Catholic colleges and universities and diocesan education leaders at the Catholic University of America, followed by a meeting with leaders of non-Christian faiths at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center.

Chief events in New York April 18-20 are a speech at the United Nations, an ecumenical meeting, Masses at St. Patrick's Cathedral and at Yankee Stadium, a meeting with seminarians and youths and a visit to Ground Zero, the site in lower Manhattan where the twin towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001.

At a midday press conference Nov. 12 and speaking informally to reporters before and after it, Archbishop Wuerl said that in visiting the nation's capital "the Holy Father is attempting to speak to the Church throughout the United States."

He said that when it was first announced last summer that the pope was considering a U.N. visit next spring, "it seemed appropriate to invite him to Washington."

He noted that Washington is the home of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' national offices, of the Catholic University of America - the bishops' national university - and of the National Shrine.

The fact that the pope would make Washington his first stop "says to me that he sees this as a center representing the entire Church in the United States," he said.

He said the pope's plan to address representatives of Catholic higher education at Catholic University highlights the importance of faith formation and Catholic education in the life of the Church.

The archbishop said preparing for the papal visit "will be a lot of work, but it'll be joyful work, because we'll be welcoming the head of the Church. We'll be welcoming the successor to Peter, and he will come here to say to all of us, 'Be strong in your faith. ... Be a light of the Gospel to this country.'"

"I think the theme that I would reflect on for the archdiocese, and therefore for his visit to the Church, is ... we can make everything new in Christ if we really put our heart into it," he said.

Asked how ticket distribution would be handled for the stadium Mass, Archbishop Wuerl said he didn't know yet.

"I suspect there will be more people who want to see and be with the pope than there are places at the stadium. ... We have to take into account that there will be people coming from all over the country," he said. "They will not see this as a Washington event. They will see it as a national event."

"I think that we have to make sure that people - especially our young people - get a chance to see him," he added. "That's going to take some planning on our part, but I think the principle we want to work from is (that) we want to make sure the coming generation of Catholic young people get a chance to see him."

Since Pope Benedict's election in 2005, a recurring theme of his papacy has been a call to an increasingly secularized Europe to return to its Christian roots.

Archbishop Wuerl said the challenge of secularization will be an important part of the context for the U.S. visit as well.

"That is the context. I believe the context for the Church today is this background, a highly secularized, very here-and-now-focused world," he said. "The task of the Church is to remind us that there's more. It's not by bread alone that we live, there's more. And the 'more' is our relationship with God."