Pope Benedict XVI ended a prayer service for bishops Wednesday evening by acknowledging "the immense suffering endured by the people of God in the Archdiocese of New Orleans as a result of Hurricane Katrina."
He then presented a silver chalice to New Orleans Archbishop Alfred Hughes as "a sign of my prayerful solidarity with the faithful of the Archdiocese and my personal gratitude for the tireless devotion which he and (former) Archbishops Philip Hannan and Francis Schulte showed toward their flock entrusted in their care."
The presentation of the chalice, the cup used during the celebration of the Mass, culminated an eventful day that began with a sun-drenched welcoming ceremony Wednesday morning at the White House attended by more than 13,000, including top congressional leaders and Bush administration officials.
Archbishop Hughes seemed touched with the pope's presentation, extending his hands to the pope to express his appreciation. It came a week after Hughes announced the merging, downsizing or clustering of 33 parishes by the end of the year, a move he said would cause "a lot of frustration and anger and grieving."
After receiving the chalice, Hughes said he was thrilled with what he described as unique honor.
He said the chalice would be used at Mass Sunday at St. Louis Cathedral, and that other archdiocese churches could use it during future Masses.
It's unusual for a pope to single out an archdiocese for recognition. Catholic scholars said the gesture indicates the importance he gives to the continuing rebuilding efforts in New Orleans, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina four months after he assumed the top position in the Roman Catholic Church. NOLA