NEW YORK -- Speaking for just a few seconds as he greeted television host Matt Lauer on during Thursday's broadcast of NBC's "Today" show, Pope Benedict XVI had this message for Americans: "Confidence in God, continue the faith in Christ."
The words, spoken in English, were part of a rare hour-long broadcast of the show from Vatican City along with New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan.
Part interview with the archbishop and part tour of the papal city-state, the episode covered behind-the-scenes footage of the pope's daily life and touched upon struggles the church faces in the U.S. and other parts of the world.
The show came on the heels of the the new Vatican council's first meeting to promote the Roman Catholic Church in the face of rising secularism in the West. It also came as the church, faced with declining church attendance and sexual abuse scandals in Europe and continued criticism over its management of sexual abuse cases in the U.S., attempts a public relations push.
A recent Pew Forum report showed that only 42 percent of adult Catholics celebrate Mass each week, while 27 percent of former Catholics surveyed said they left the church because they believe the sexual abuse scandals tarnished its reputation.
"To get our people back, to excite them as the faith, that remains a high pastoral priority," Dolan said Thursday on the show. He added that "maybe some marketing" would be one way to achieve that.
Experts on the U.S. Catholic Church say Dolan's appearance is part of a concerted effort to up his profile on the national scene since his election last year at the head of the D.C.-based United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Thursday's "Today" episode marked the second time in recent months that the head of New York's 2.5-million member church appeared on national television. In March, Dolan was featured prominently on CBS' "60 Minutes."
During his appearance on "Today," Dolan struck a casual tone, avoiding a deep dive into any controversial issues.
He called priest abuse scandals in the U.S. "the kind of thing that was so horrible, so tragic, so nauseating, we got to keep remembering it," but did not address critiques of the church's handling of such cases. Dolan added that celibacy did not contribute to sexual abuse by priests, citing a recent study the church commissioned from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He said researchers "can't give a real crisp answer to what caused [abuse]," but said that, above all, "sin caused it."
Dolan wore his bishops' vestments, but he accented the look with a white hat and sunglasses. He heartily laughed as he gave Lauer and Al Roker a tour through Rome, at one point sitting with the hosts as they held pints of beer and chatted about Dolan's love of pasta.
Besides the short greeting with Lauer, the "Today" episode did not include an interview with the pope. The greeting came after the pope's weekly "audience," where he addresses thousands of devout Catholics who pack into St. Peter's Square.
It did, however, show the pope during the course of his day, using video that the Vatican gave to the show. Footage included private morning prayers with his staff, dinner with associates, meetings with visitors and his desk and study at the Vatican. "The Holy Father is a walker," Lauer noted, as clips of the pope praying the rosary and strolling through the Vatican Gardens displayed.
The pope wakes up around 5 a.m., Lauer said, and has a packed schedule all day until he goes back to his residence after watching Italian news at 9 p.m.
Lauer and Roker, who return to the U.S. Thursday, left the pope with a gift. After hearing that the pontiff has a fondness for felines, before leaving the Vatican, they presented him with a crystal cat.
More:Archbishop Timothy Dolan Roman Catholic Church Sex Abuse Scandal Matt Lauer Pope Today Show Pope Benedict
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