Braving the threat of rain, Tobin, along with many other members of the Archdiocese of Newark, traveled to the Bronx and Yankee Stadium to take part in the climactic event on Pope Benedict XVI's whirlwind, six-day visit to the United States.
Yankee Stadium was transformed into an open-air church April 20 as Pope Benedict XVI urged more than 57,000 Catholics to "move forward with firm resolve" in continuing the legacy of faith set in motion by the country's first Catholics.
"Follow faithfully in the footsteps of those who have gone before you," he told the stadium congregation. "On these solid foundations, the future of the Church in America must now begin to rise."
The faithful welcomed the pope by waving gold and white handkerchiefs and cheering "Benedetto" ("Benedict" in Italian) upon his arrival and immediately after his homily. They shouted "we love you" while waving handkerchiefs upon the pope's final procession from the ball field.
Tobin, a parishioner at Our Lady of Sorrows Parish, South Orange; a senior advisor for communications at Seton Hall University; the author of numerous books on the Catholic Church; and a former editor of The Catholic Advocate, said he welcomed the sunshine on an otherwise gray, dreary day-an uplifting, heavenly lighting effect that came in right on cue as the Mass began at Yankee Stadium. "The sunshine was perfectly timed," he said with a laugh. "People throughout the stadium were thrilled."
Among the many who were thrilled to be at the Mass were Maureen and Chris Kaiser, who also are parishioners at Our Lady of Sorrows. "This truly was an amazing, magical experience," Maureen Kaiser said, reflecting on her participation in the event several hours after the Mass had ended.
Interviewed via cell phone as the Mass was taking place, Tobin said the atmosphere during Mass was "electric," adding that those in the crowd were also "appropriately attentive" as the pope spoke. Along with the enthusiasm, Tobin detected a solemn undercurrent in the stadium during the pope's homily, which touched on important themes such as hope, freedom through faith and respect for the legacy of the U.S. Church. These were some of the same substantive topics that the pope addressed at his other appearances in New York and Washington D.C.
The pope's homily had two special "applause moments," according to Tobin. The first was when his shared his message of defending the rights of "the unborn child in the mother's womb." The second came when the pope discussed religious vocations, offering his encouragement to young men and young women to "follow in the footsteps of Christ, who was willing to lay down His life for His friends."
The crowd also applauded at the final words of the pope's homily, when he stated that "Jesus is the way that leads to eternal happiness... and the life who brings ever new joy and hope, to us and to our world."
In a guest article that was published in the April 9 edition of The Catholic Advocate, Tobin wrote that Pope Benedict-elected on April 19, 2005-has demonstrated a distinctive, scholarly flair as the Bishop of Rome. In particular, Tobin praised the pope on his two encyclical letters: Deus caritas est ("God is love"); and Spe Salvi ("In hope we are saved").
The pope made several references to freedom and said society "rightly places a high value on personal freedom," yet he cautioned that American Catholics should "use wisely the blessings of freedom" to "build a future of hope for coming generations."
He told the crowd to pray fervently for the coming of the kingdom, but urged them to be "constantly alert for the signs of its presence and working for its growth in every sector of society. This means overcoming every separation between faith and life and countering the false gospels of freedom and happiness. It also means rejecting a false dichotomy between faith and political life and...working to enrich American society and culture-never losing sight of that great hope that gives meaning and value to all other hopes, which inspire our lives."
In his homily, the pope cited the early Church in the United States for establishing "a network of churches, educational, healthcare and social institutions." Pope Benedict praised the U.S. Church for being "outstanding in its prophetic witness in the defense of life, in the education of the young, in care for the poor, the sick and the stranger in your midst."
The Mass was a celebration of the 200th anniversaries of the archdioceses of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Louisville, KY, as well as the elevation of Baltimore to an archdiocese. New York Cardinal Edward M. Egan named each one in his welcoming remarks.
(Editor's note: This story contains information provided by Catholic News Service.)