Pope Benedict XVI visit to the United States begins

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI acknowledges the crowd upon his arrival at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, April 15, 2008.

Pope Benedict XVI began his visit to the United States on Tuesday. In an unprecedented gesture, he was greeted by President George W. Bush, Laura Bush and their daughter Jenna, upon his arrival at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

Today, which is also the Pope's 81st birthday, Benedict XVI visited the White House and more than 9,000 people with tickets were there to see him speak. This makes it "one of the largest arrival ceremonies ever held at the White House," according to White House Press Secretary Dana Perino. An estimated additional 4,000 people without tickets lined the streets.

Benedict XVI addresses the gathered crowd today at the South Lawn.

The Pope was given a 21-gun salute and greeted by President Bush on the South Lawn of the White House. Benedict XVI addressed the crowd in a short speech. He appealed for support "for the patient efforts of international diplomacy to resolve conflicts and promote progress."

He further said, "As the nation faces the increasingly complex political and ethical issues of our time, I am confident that the American people will find in their religious beliefs a precious source of insight and an inspiration to pursue reasoned, responsible and respectful dialogue in the effort to build a more humane and free society." Benedict said he has "great respect for this vast pluralistic society" and ended his speech with "God bless America."

Kevin Waymel, 26, travelled from San Francisco with 80 others to see the Pope. He told The Guardian that he had "come to show support for the Holy Father," and credited his faith for getting him off drugs.

George W. Bush and Laura Bush present a birthday cake to Benedict XVI.

Afterwards, inside the White House, the first couple presented the Pope with a birthday cake. In a private meeting with Bush, Benedict XVI brought up his concerns about the Iraq war and the treatment of illegal immigrants in the United States, who may number as many as 20 million. Most of these are from Latin America and therefore overwhelmingly Catholic.

After the meeting, Benedict XVI rode along Pennsylvania Avenue in the popemobile with throngs of people lining the street.

Wednesday evening, the Pope met with US bishops at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. He addressed the bishops about sexual abuse by the clergy, which the Pope has said made him "deeply ashamed." The US Catholic Church has paid out an estimated US$2 billion to settle abuse cases in recent years.

Bendict XVI told the gathered bishops that the sex abuse scandal had at times been mishandled and urged them to reach out to the victims.

Children along Pennsylvania Avenue wait for the popemobile to pass before them.

"It is your God-given responsibility as pastors to bind up the wounds caused by every breach of trust to foster healing, to promote reconciliation and to reach out with loving concern to those so seriously wronged," the Pope said.

Some victims had hoped the Pope would have critcised bishops for transferring pedophile priests from parish to parish. He did not go that far and instead praised training programs for priests and lay people who deal with children. "In this regard your efforts to heal and protect are bearing great fruit not only for those directly under your pastoral care, but for all of society," said Benedict XVI.

Benedict XVI passes the White House in the popemobile

"It's the closest the Pope has come to saying that the bishops didn't do their job right. I think that's quite significant," said the Reverend Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit priest and author.

Prior to his arrival, hundreds of people were already gathered outside the Basilica as Benedict XVI arrived. "I'm really excited," said an unnamed onlooker to NY1. "It's like a dream, almost. There are, like, other foreign dignitaries, and then there's the pope. It's a unique experience and I can't wait to see him."

During his flight to the United States, Benedict XVI told reporters that he intended to discuss poverty and development aid to poor countries with President Bush. "The United States has to help these countries develop. It is in the interest of everyone, not only these countries but of the world and particularly of the United States," he said.

This is the first Papal visit to the United States by Benedict XVI, and the first visit of a Pope to the U.S. since John Paul II's visit in 1999. The pope scheduled to stay in Washington through Thursday. After that, he will travel to New York City where he plans to address the United Nations, visit the World Trade Center site, and celebrate Mass at Yankee Stadium.


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