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"Todayís celebration is more than an occasion of gratitude for graces received. It is also a summons to move forward with firm resolve, to use wisely the blessings of freedom, in order to build a future of hope for coming generations."

NEW YORK (Zenit) - Build a future of hope, Benedict XVI told the Church in the United States on the last day of his apostolic trip to the country.

Speaking to more than 58,000 people gathered in Yankee's Stadium for the last major event of his five-day visit, the Pope recalled the bicentennial this month of the creation of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

"Today," he said, "we recall the bicentennial of a watershed in the history of the Church in the United States: its first great chapter of growth."

Cardinal Edward Egan, archbishop of New York, was on hand to greet Benedict XVI, and to thank him on behalf of the Church in the United States for the Pontiff's visit.

The cardinal recalled, "200 years ago this month, your wise and heroic predecessor of happy memory, Pope Pius VII, elevated the Diocese of Baltimore, the only diocese in the nation at the time, to the dignity of an archdiocese."

Along with the elevation of Baltimore to an archdiocese, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Bardstown, which is now Louisville, were all created as dioceses.

"Our celebration today is also a sign of the impressive growth which God has given to the Church in your country in the past two hundred years," Benedict XVI said. "From a small flock [...] the Church in America has been built up in fidelity to the twin commandment of love of God and love of neighbor.

"In this land of freedom and opportunity, the Church has united a widely diverse flock in the profession of the faith and, through her many educational, charitable and social works, has also contributed significantly to the growth of American society as a whole."

Unity

The Pontiff spoke of the "linguistic and cultural tensions" that posed a challenge for the first apostles, and said the success of the Early Church demonstrated "the power of the word of God, authoritatively proclaimed by the Apostles and received in faith, to create a unity which transcends the divisions arising from human limitations and weakness."

He continued: "Here we are reminded of a fundamental truth: That the Churchís unity has no other basis than the Word of God, made flesh in Christ Jesus our Lord.

"All external signs of identity, all structures, associations and programs, valuable or even essential as they may be, ultimately exist only to support and foster the deeper unity which, in Christ, is Godís indefectible gift to his Church."

"In these 200 years," the Pope continued, "the face of the Catholic community in your country has changed greatly. We think of the successive waves of immigrants whose traditions have so enriched the Church in America.

"We think of the strong faith which built up the network of churches, educational, healthcare and social institutions which have long been the hallmark of the Church in this land.

"We think also of those countless fathers and mothers who passed on the faith to their children, the steady ministry of the many priests who devoted their lives to the care of souls, and the incalculable contribution made by so many men and women religious, who not only taught generations of children how to read and write, but also inspired in them a lifelong desire to know God, to love him and to serve him."

Future

"In this land of religious liberty," Benedict XVI said, "Catholics found freedom not only to practice their faith, but also to participate fully in civic life, bringing their deepest moral convictions to the public square and cooperating with their neighbors in shaping a vibrant, democratic society.

"Todayís celebration is more than an occasion of gratitude for graces received. It is also a summons to move forward with firm resolve, to use wisely the blessings of freedom, in order to build a future of hope for coming generations."

Recalling the meeting with youth the Pope attended Saturday at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, Benedict XVI said he was "moved by the joy, the hope and the generous love of Christ which I saw on the faces of the many young people assembled. They are the Churchís future."

Addressing himself to the youth, "May you step forward and take up the responsibility which your faith in Christ sets before you! May you find the courage to proclaim Christ, 'the same, yesterday, and today and for ever,' and the unchanging truths which have their foundation in him.

"These are the truths that set us free! They are the truths which alone can guarantee respect for the inalienable dignity and rights of each man, woman and child in our world -- including the most defenseless of all human beings, the unborn child in the motherís womb."

"I urge you," the Pope said, "open your hearts to the Lordís call to follow him in the priesthood and the religious life. Can there be any greater mark of love than this?"

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