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Pope Benedict XVI turned 81 on his Trip to the United States and the Nation celebrated with him.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Zenit) - Benedict XVI emerged from the apostolic nuncio's residence in the U.S. capital this morning to be greeted by children's voices wishing him a happy birthday in his native German language.

The Pope thus made his first public appearance on the first full day of his trip to the United States, which coincides with his 81st birthday. From the residence of the nuncio, the Pontiff headed to the White House for an official reception ceremony.

President George Bush was ready to welcome him in style. The 9,000-guest party was one of the biggest events to ever be held on the White House's South Lawn. Sun and blue skies helped the atmosphere, and the winds that greeted the Pope yesterday upon his 4 p.m. arrival at Andrews Air Force Base had calmed considerably.

"Today is your birthday," Bush told the Holy Father. "Birthdays are usually celebrated with close friends. So our entire nation is moved and honored that you decided to spend this day with us."

The event featured soprano Kathleen Battle singing the Our Father and a 21-gun salute. The Marine Corps Band performed the U.S. National Anthem. And the crowd could not resist an impromptu rendition of "Happy Birthday," singing it through twice during the course of the festivities.

"God bless America," the Pope said.

A message

Benedict XVI and the president, as planned, both delivered an address.

Bush proposed an image of the America that the Pope will find during his five-day, two-city visit. "Most of all, Holy Father," he said, "you will find in America people whose hearts are open to your message of hope. And America and the world need this message."

For his part, the Bishop of Rome spoke about the responsibility that comes with freedom.

"From the dawn of the Republic," he said, "America’s quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator. The framers of this nation’s founding documents drew upon this conviction when they proclaimed the 'self-evident truth' that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights grounded in the laws of nature and of nature’s God."

After the discourses, the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" was sung by the U.S. Army Chorus, a song testifying to God as the foundation of America.

In addition to the members of the military, members of the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and the Knights of Columbus were present in uniform. Members of Legatus, a national Catholic business group, were also in attendance.

Benedict XVI thus became just the second Pope to visit the White House, the first being Pope John Paul II when he visited President Jimmy Carter in 1979.

Hoping to see

Following the festivities on the South Lawn, the Pope and president entered the White House for birthday cake, just before the private meeting between the two leaders in the Oval Office.

A joint statement from the Vatican and the U.S. government reported that the leaders spoke of "the respect of the dignity of the human person; the defense and promotion of life, matrimony and the family; the education of future generations; human rights and religious freedom; sustainable development and the struggle against poverty and pandemics, especially in Africa."

As the Pope left the White House to return to the Vatican Embassy along Pennsylvania Avenue in the popemobile, thousands thronged the streets hoping for a glimpse. He waved and blessed the crowd.

Washington officials have taken pains to make sure there are no potholes on the roads the Pope is traveling to arrive to his destinations.

The Holy Father will lunch with American cardinals and with the directors of the U.S bishops' conference: Cardinal Francis George, Bishop Gerald Kicanas and Monsignor David Malloy, respectively president, vice president and secretary-general.

At 4:45 p.m. local time, he will meet with leaders of five charitable organizations: the Knights of Columbus, the Patrons of the Arts, Centesimus Annus Pro Pontefice, the Papal Foundation and the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land.

Later in the day, Benedict XVI was scheduled for a meeting at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception with the nation's bishops. He will pray evening prayer with them at the shrine. The basilica and the adjacent campus of the Catholic University of America, are also decked out for the Pope's arrival.

Crowds of faithful spent the day waiting and hoping they will see the Holy Father when he arrives. The Mariachi Santa Maria, from East Chicago, Illinois, traveled 16 hours by bus to sing happy birthday to the Holy Father in Spanish.

Situated at a corner just before the entrance of the basilica, the 13 teenagers stood out in their distinguished white costumes with red ties. The band's logo is a metal of Our Lady of Guadalupe. With luck, it will be the first time the students will see a Pope in person. "It's a chance of a lifetime," they all agreed.



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