Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Pope Inside the Beltway

The AP reports:

The festive White House visit was the highlight of the first full day of [Pope Benedict XVI]'s first trip to the United States as leader of the world's Roman Catholics. A South Lawn arrival ceremony — which also turned into a celebration for Benedict's 81st birthday, complete with energetic singing and a several-tiered cake prepared by the White House pastry chef — was followed by 45 minutes of private talks between Bush and Benedict, alone in the Oval Office.

It was the 25th meeting between a Roman Catholic pope and a U.S. president, sessions that have spanned 89 years, five pontiffs and 11 American leaders.


It was only the second White House visit by a pope — the first was 29 years ago — and Bush elected to honor it with a level of pageantry rarely seen, even on grounds accustomed to routinely welcoming the world's most important leaders.

Lampposts fluttered with flags in the red-white-and-blue of America and yellow-and-white of the Holy See. The sun-drenched South Lawn was filled to bursting with the largest crowd of Bush's presidency, requiring a large television screen for those in the back...

In Washington's streets, thousands who were unable to get tickets played music and waved banners as they waited for any glimpse of the pontiff. Benedict didn't disappoint, leaving the White House in his glass-walled Mercedes popemobile for a slow cruise along Pennsylvania Avenue, accompanied by a long motorcade and the pontiff waving from his perch inside.


The president kicked off the unprecedented series of papal festivities on Tuesday, by motoring to Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington to meet Benedict's plane, something he's never done for any leader. While the pontiff received a rock-star reception on the tarmac, Bush stood back in the unusual role of second fiddle.

And here are some pictures, since the Popemobile route was fairly close to my office: