As the Pope was preparing to land at Andrews Air Force Base Tuesday afternoon, there were many unsung heroes who were not present for the historic touchdown. They were busy making Washington ready for this most important visit.
The hungry anticipation of the faithful, and even of those who do not yet believe in the One whom the Pope proclaims, fills the rarified air of the Washington, D.C. metroplex.Someone whose message transcends even politics has arrived.
WASHINGTON (Catholic Online) – Eyes and ears of Catholics around the nation were focused on the video feeds coming from Andrews Air Force Base on Tuesday afternoon as Pope Benedict XVI arrived aboard Shepherd One for his first visit to the United States as the Vicar of Christ.
The wheels of the plane touched the ground as bells pealed at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast Washington. Bells in other churches around the nation also rang out, signaling the arrival of the Holy Father.
Just outside of Andrews and along Washington streets, crowds gathered in hopes of seeing the pontiff as he traveled to the Apostolic Nunciature, the Vatican’s Embassy. Although the pope traveled by limousine Tuesday, portions of his travels around the nation’s capital will be in his Popemobile, in order to have more direct contact with the crowds welcoming him.
And those eager crowds will be trying to catch a glimpse of the one who has come to bring a message of hope to a Nation that is ready to hear it.
At the same time, scores of workers across the city labored behind the scenes Tuesday to be sure all was ready for the papal visit.
Workers from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) sat in the Westin Hotel that housed the Media Center, checking in thousands of journalists present from all over the world and answering the multitude of questions from weary reporters who had just arrived.
Meanwhile, members of the Knights of Columbus were busy at the White House, rehearsing for their ceremonial role at tomorrow’s reception.
At the Apostolic Nunciature, the embassy staff excitedly prepared for their special houseguest. When news that the Pope’s motorcade was getting close, some of the Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr St. George waited at the front door for his arrival.
Workers hovered like bees all around Nationals Stadium Tuesday erecting the stage in center field, cleaning the seating areas, and getting everything ready for the Mass on Thursday. Preparations will, most likely, maintain a non-stop pace from now until the Mass is ended around noon on Thursday. Media will begin arriving at 3am Thursday morning, with the gates opening at 6am.
The grounds around the Catholic University of America (CUA) were being readied for the activities taking place there on Wednesday and Thursday, while the Basilica both hosted the crowds who were there in anticipation of the events and tried to get ready as well.
Visitors in the Basilica took pictures of friends with a life-size photo of Pope Benedict, sorted through the myriad of papal presents in the gift shop – T-shirts, bumper stickers, etc., and talked excitedly with one another. They may not be able to get close to the Pope but they are walking the same holy ground.
In addition to tickets to the Mass at Nationals Stadium, Catholic University distributed 16,500 in batches of 50 to parishes in the D.C. area. Switchboards at the USCCB and CUA have been continually flooded with calls from individuals hoping there might still be an extra ticket to one of these special events.
Journalists endured the first of many security screenings today in anticipation of the Pontiff’s arrival. The 300 U.S. and foreign journalists who had been credentialed for the arrival were instructed to meet at the Westin City Center Hotel, media center for the event, five hours early.
Security officers and canine units from the Department of Defense and Secret Service were used to sweep the journalists' equipment, then searched them by hand before having them go through electronic screening. They then were loaded on four buses and taken to the air base under police escort with sirens blaring.
Traffic problems in Washington began early Tuesday as the routes for the Pope’s first journey along the streets of the capital were closed and other transportation events took place. The Washington Post talked with one man, Kevin Cane, who was stick in traffic on M Street due to the Media security sweeps. "I'm a Catholic so I think it's great the Pope is coming,” Cane stated, “but this is a bit of a pain."
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