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As the black limousine pulled up in front of the White House, a crowd of 9,000 including school children stood on the lawn waiting to greet the Holy Father.

President Bush applauds as Pope Benedict XVI greets the crowd, Wednesday, April 16, 2008, during an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washing

President Bush applauds as Pope Benedict XVI greets the crowd, Wednesday, April 16, 2008, during an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washing

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WASHINGTON (CNS) -- After getting out of the car, Pope Benedict stood next to the papal nuncio, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, and stretched his arms toward the children. They waved small papal flags and yelled "Happy birthday!" to him.

One of the children welcoming the pope was kindergartner Katie Rose from St. Raphael Catholic Church in Rockville, Md. She said she was "really happy" to see the pope. Around her neck, she wore a rosary that her mother had given her that day to remember the pope's visit.

Across the street, Catholic groups from around the country stood together, hoping to catch a glimpse of the pope. Some played instruments and sang songs.

One group traveled from Santa Ana, Calif.

"We're here to support the one who is our head," said Father Randy Guillen, a priest traveling with the Santa Ana group.

Maximo Cortez, a young member of the Neocatechumenal Way in Dallas, noted Pope Benedict's support of the spiritual renewal movement.

Cortez said, "It's like he approved my way of life. It's like he's telling us that this isn't all made up. (This is) from the Holy Spirit."

Another group of 40 people came from Dallas.

"We're trying to show the people that Jesus is in every part of the United States," said Alex Alvarez, a member of the group.

Gary Coulter came to see the pope with some of his fellow parishioners at St. Michael the Archangel in Silver Spring, Md.

"I think it's important for us to come out to show the pope that we love him (and) to show the country that the Catholic Church is very much alive," he said.

Ann Marie Heimel said she felt called by the Holy Spirit to travel with her four children from St. Paul, Minn., to see the pope. Her family sold chocolate chip cookies to earn the money to come, and made 1,000 flags stenciled with the words "Christ Our Hope," the theme of the pope's visit, to give out to people.

Heimel said she didn't plan for the trip to Washington. It was "totally on faith," she said.

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Copyright (c) 2007 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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