Pope speaks to UN members

April 18, 2008 4:27:48 PM PDT
The pope is now in New York for Day Four of his six-day journey to America. On Friday morning he addressed the United Nations. Now, he's visiting a New York synagogue.

The pope arrived in New York Friday morning, traveling by jet from Washington, then a helicopter to Manhattan and finally an armored limousine to the UN headquarters. He met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, then was welcomed into the general assembly.

Chicago's Francis Cardinal George was in the audience.

Speaking in French and then in English, the pope focused on human rights and on religious freedom. He stressed that religious expression should be protected in countries around the world.

"It is inconceivable, then, that believers should have to suppress a part of themselves - their faith - in order to be active citizens. It should never be necessary to deny God in order to enjoy one's rights," Pope Benedict XVI said.

Later, he was serenaded by an international children's choir. And when he spoke to UN staffers, he told them the UN's role is much like a family.

"Stronger members take care of weaker ones," the pope said.

His day of diplomacy is much different from Thursday, when he met privately with a handful of sexual abuse victims from Boston. Three of them shared their experience on "Good Morning America."

"It was not just sexual abuse, it was spiritual abuse," said Bernie McDade.

"I think my tears spoke louder than words," said Faith Johnston, abuse victim.

The pontiff, addressing the U.N. General Assembly on his first papal trip to the U.S., said the organization's work is vital. But he raised concerns that power is concentrated among just handful of players.

"Multilateral consensus," he said, speaking in French, "continues to be in crisis because it is still subordinated to the decisions of a small number."

The world's problems call for collective interventions by the international community, he said.

"The promotion of human rights remains the most effective strategy for eliminating inequalities between countries and social groups, and increasing security," the pope said.

Benedict, only the third pope to address the United Nations, made the remarks after three dramatic days in which he repeatedly discussed America's clergy sexual abuse scandal.

Across from the U.N., several hundred supporters, many of them Hispanic, gathered behind metal police barricades.

"Benedetto!" many shouted in Spanish.

A group of New Jersey Catholics held up a banner for the German-born pope that combined German -- "Willkommen Pope Benedict XVI" -- and English sentiments: "You Rock!"

A small anti-pope contingent included a group calling itself Forum for Protection of Religious Pluralism.

Financial consultant Padmanabh Rao, a Hindu from Woodbridge, N.J., complained that the Vatican is converting people in India to Catholicism.

Queens contractor William Salazar, who identified himself as a Navajo Indian, said Catholic priests "came to America and they killed our children. Now the pope is sending priests all over the world who are raping our children."

The pope's New York visit will also include a visit to ground zero, site of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and a Mass at Yankee Stadium on Sunday.

It remains to be seen whether Benedict will continue to talk about the sexual abuse crisis. He has been widely expected to broach the subject on Saturday when he celebrates Mass for priests, deacons and members of religious orders at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan.

Olan Horne, another Boston-area victim who prayed and talked with Benedict, told the AP, "I believe we turned the pope's head a little in the right direction."

Benedict's address to the presidents of Catholic colleges and universities was among the most anticipated of his trip, but was overshadowed by the meeting with victims.

The pope, a former academic, said academic freedom has "great value" for the schools, but does not justify promoting positions that violate the Catholic faith.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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