(AP) - Pope Benedict XVI praised America as a land of opportunity and hope Thursday as he celebrated the first public Mass of his U.S. pilgrimage, but he lamented that the nation's promise fell short for Indians and blacks.
Hope for the future, he said, "is very much a part of the American character."
Tens of thousands of worshippers filled Nationals Park on a clear spring day and cheered Benedict as he arrived in a white popemobile, standing in the back and waving. A crowd of 46,000 was expected, and the demand for tickets doubled the supply, organizers said.
The pope, wearing scarlet vestments, led the service from an altar erected in centerfield of the recently inaugurated baseball stadium. Rows of red-robed church leaders joined him.
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In brilliant spring sunshine, the pope walked down from the altar to distribute Holy Communion near the end of Mass.
"Americans have always been a people of hope," he said during his homily. "Your ancestors came to this country with the experience of finding new freedom and opportunity.
"To be sure, this promise was not experienced by all the inhabitants of this land; one thinks of the injustices endured by the native American peoples and by those brought here forcibly from Africa as slaves."
He turned for a third day to the clergy sex abuse scandal that rocked the American church, saying "no words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse."
He called for healing and reconciliation and assistance to the victims.