Among the many unforgettable images from Pope Benedict XVI's recent trip to the United States, the first impression that Americans received remains a lasting one, Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl said in an April 30 reflection on the papal visit.

"I suspect our very first impression of our Holy Father when he arrived in the United States was that beaming, smiling face, from the moment he came down the stairs" of the papal plane, Shepherd One, after it landed April 15 at Andrews Air Force Base, Archbishop Wuerl told 350 people gathered last week at Jesus the Good Shepherd in Owings. The pope's joyful arrival "captured the hearts of everyone," the archbishop said, noting how the pontiff, who would turn 81 the next day, energetically walked across the tarmac to greet the president and first lady. "We recognized he was happy to be here."

The next morning, Archbishop Wuerl arrived at the Washington hotel where many in the papal visit entourage were staying, and he said a housekeeper working there proudly told him, "Archbishop, my daughter and I are going to the Mass." Then the woman's eyes "filled up, and she said, 'I saw the pope on television last night at the airport, and he loves us!'"

Archbishop Wuerl said that sentiment "became apparent to everyone" the next day, as more than 47,000 people cheered the Holy Father upon his arrival for Mass at the new Nationals Park in Washington.

"We were part of this extraordinary, wonderful and diverse flock. As he stood among us, we knew the rock of our faith was there," the archbishop said. At Nationals Park, the vicar of Christ was there, "and in the Eucharist itself, Christ would join us."

A news photo of the smiling pope joyfully raising his arms in response to the crowd at the ballpark was reprinted in a special holy card and handed out after the archbishop's talk to the lay people, priests and religious at the Calvert County parish.

At Nationals Park, the Holy Father "looked around, and he saw the face of the Church in our country. He saw a slice of the world... all united in one faith, around one altar," Archbishop Wuerl said.

The archbishop praised the music at the Mass and how it reflected the faith and the diversity of Catholics in the Washington area, and he also noted the reverent silence in the stadium as the pope consecrated the Eucharist and then as people lined up to receive Holy Communion. Later after the Mass, as the pope prepared to leave in his car, he thanked Washington's archbishop, saying, "That liturgy was a true prayer!"

Archbishop Wuerl described how special it was to see the thousands crowding the popemobile route along Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, with throngs of people along the sidewalk cheering, and with many other people watching from the windows of their office buildings downtown.

"We know who he is, and why he's so special... The pope is Peter. We went out to see the successor to Peter, the person who represents Peter today," said Archbishop Wuerl, describing how German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope three years ago, becoming Pope Benedict, the 264th successor to St. Peter. "This man connects us all the way back to the apostles. That's why were so excited. Peter had come to us!"

Archbishop Wuerl noted how Pope Benedict today continues the call that Jesus gave to Peter, "to feed my sheep," to teach the faith of Christ to today's Catholics and to encourage them to share that faith with the world.

"He came because he walks in the footsteps of Peter. His task was to confirm us in the faith," the archbishop said. "In him, we go back 20 centuries to the apostles, and his voice is echoing the witness of the apostles... The reason we were so excited by the pope's presence, by Peter in our midst, is because of that apostolic tradition. We go all the way back to Christ, we can be sure this is the faith of the apostles, of those who heard and saw Jesus," who witnessed Christ's death and resurrection, the archbishop said. "We are part of a family of faith that can trace its lineage, its sacraments, all the way back to those who received it from Christ."

The archbishop noted how the Holy Father in his homily at Nationals Park encouraged Catholics to learn their faith, to live it in their daily lives and to share it with others. The pope, noting that society today is at a crossroads, added, "The world needs this witness!"

Archbishop Wuerl pointed out how the Holy Father praised the way that faith has been part of the fabric of the nation's history, and he challenged today's Catholics to "take our faith and bring it into the public world, the marketplace," to live out and share the Church's teaching on the dignity of life in all its stages, and the importance of marriage and the family.

"Even more important is opening the minds and hearts of the wider community to moral truths, and the role of the lay faithful to be leaven" to today's world, Archbishop Wuerl said, adding, "It's up to you to do that." The archbishop pointed out how Pope Benedict repeated the central theme of his recent encyclical, that "to live our faith is to live differently... one who has hope (in Christ) lives differently."

In humorous asides, the archbishop confessed to missing the ease of travel in the papal motorcade, now as his priest secretary navigates their car through congested Washington traffic. He joked how the Holy Father received not one, not two, but three birthday cakes during the visit. And talking about the popemobile, Archbishop Wuerl joked, "Now there's a vehicle! I'd like to have one of those! I enjoyed my two days of riding in it!"

Washington's archbishop concluded his talk by noting how the Catholic Church of Washington had "welcomed Peter in our midst, welcomed the shepherd of our Church, knowing what he brought us was Christ, knowing our connection to the apostles, to the Apostles' Creed, to our faith.

"For one moment, we were, all of us, at the center of that heritage, at the center of that living communion. Isn't that the reason we were so thrilled, isn't that the reason we continue to rejoice in the legacy of that visit?" Archbishop Wuerl asked in concluding his talk, to a long standing ovation from the crowd at the Southern Maryland church.

Father Michael King, the pastor of Jesus the Good Shepherd, thanked Archbishop Wuerl for his talk, and said, "The theme of the Holy Father's visit was Christ our hope. By your presence, by your talk, you give us hope."