On Wednesday morning Pope Benedict XVI will become the second pontiff to visit a sitting president at the White House. President Bush is truly rolling out the red carpet, greeting the Holy Father upon his arrival at Andrews Air Force Base on Tuesday afternoon.
WASHINGTON (Catholic Online) – An expected 12,000 people will be waiting for Pope Benedict XVI when he visits the White House Wednesday morning. The leader of the world’s 1 billion Catholics will become only the second pope in history to visit the White House.
President Bush will also be present at Andrews Air Force base for the Holy Father’s arrival Tuesday afternoon. When Pope John Paul II visited Washington during President Jimmy Carter’s tenure, he was a guest at the White House as well but was met by Vice President Mondale at Andrews.
Pope Benedict will spend approximately 90 minutes with President Bush on Wednesday morning. The festivities will begin around 10:30 am and will feature a 21-gun salute, and the U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps. Anthems from both the Vatican and the United States will be played. Those attending the pope during the visit will include an honor guard from the Knights of Columbus.
After remarks from both leaders, the Holy Father and President Bush will retire to the Oval Office for a 45 minute private meeting. Bush and Benedict have a lot of common ground in the areas of abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and gay marriage. The Iraq War is one place where the two differ.
The White House will hold a special dinner in the evening to honor the Pope, though Benedict will not be present. Vespers and his Address to the U.S. Bishops at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception are in conflict with the dinner. Catholic leaders will be present, instead, for the feast of Bavarian cuisine in honor of the Pope’s 81st birthday on Wednesday.
In an interview with the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), President Bush was asked why he was focusing so much attention on the pontiff during this visit.
"One, he speaks for millions. Two, he doesn't come as a politician; he comes as a man of faith," Bush told EWTN. He went on to indicate that he wanted to honor Pope Benedict as a man of conviction. "There's right and wrong in life, that moral relativism has a danger of undermining the capacity to have more hopeful and free societies."
Catholic leaders have also weighed in on the emphasis being placed on Pope Benedict’s visit. The Associated Press quoted Catholic theologian and biographer of John Paull II, George Weigel as saying, "The pope represents not just the Catholic Church but the possibility of moral argument in world affairs and it is very important for American presidents to rub up against that from time to time."
The AP interviewed John Allen, a Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, about the Vatican’s interest in the trip.
"It wants to be a player in world affairs,” Allen said, “and everyone understands that to do that you have to be in conversation with the United States."
There have been 25 meetings between presidents and popes since the first one in 1919 when Woodrow Wilson was received by Pope Benedict XV at the Vatican. Every president since that time has met with the Pope at least once. President Bush is the current record holder with five meetings.
Attention to Catholic issues and Catholic faith has become a significant factor even from a political standpoint. There are currently 64 million Catholics in the U.S., which is approximately one-fourth of our total population.
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