The crowd of about 50,000 people from throughout the United States and across the Archdiocese of Washington offered enthusiastic applause as Pope Benedict XVI arrived for the April 2008 Papal Mass at Nationals Park in Washington. Moments later, the pope stood near the altar, smiled warmly and lifted his outstretched arms toward the congregation, as if to embrace them. The feeling was mutual.

For that morning, the newly opened ballpark became an outdoor cathedral, with a Mass that was at times joyous and reverent. The music was provided by a 250-voice Papal Mass Choir, 80-voice Gospel Choir, 175-voice Children’s Choir, and a 65-voice Intercultural Choir that sang in Spanish, French and Zulu. World famous mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, a Washington native, sang, as did Spanish tenor Placido Domingo, who sang “Panis Angelicus” during the Communion meditation.

The ballpark that nearly shook with excitement at the pope’s arrival was marked by respectful silence during the consecration. At the beginning of Mass, Archbishop Donald Wuerl welcomed the Holy Father to Washington, saying, “We look to you for renewed inspiration to continue the challenge to make all things new in Christ, our hope.”

In his homily, Pope Benedict XVI echoed that theme of the papal visit, saying, “Those who have hope must live different lives! By your prayers, by the witness of your faith, by the fruitfulness of your charity, may you point the way toward that vast horizon of hope which God is even now opening up to his Church and indeed to all humanity: the vision of a world reconciled and renewed in Christ Jesus, our Savior.”

Pope Benedict’s first stop on his only pastoral visit to the United States also included a White House welcome, prayer with the nation’s bishops at the National Shrine’s Crypt Church, a meeting with the nation’s educators at The Catholic University of America, and an interfaith prayer service at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center.

But the centerpiece of the pope’s visit to Washington was that Mass at Nationals Park. Afterward as the pope prepared to leave, he thanked Archbishop Wuerl, saying, “That liturgy was a true prayer!”