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Pope Visits White House, Compliments U.S. Generosity

Pope Benedict XVI visited the White House Wednesday, welcomed by President and Laura Bush. A reporter following the story discusses the pope's six-day U.S. visit.

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    Pope Benedict XVI was officially welcomed by President Bush on the South Lawn of the White House in a ceremony filled with pomp and pageantry.

    It was the first visit of a pontiff to the White House in nearly 30 years and only the second one in history.

    The crowd was one of the largest ever to gather on the South Lawn, more than 13,000 invited guests.

    The president's cabinet was in attendance, as were congressional leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

    The pope and the president stood side-by-side while a Marine band played both anthems, the "Star-Spangled Banner" and the Holy See's "Hymn and Pontifical March."

  • CROWD (singing):

    Happy birthday to you…


    An enthusiastic audience broke into a spontaneous birthday serenade, celebrating Pope Benedict's 81st birthday.

    Cheers of "Viva Il Papa!" also punctuated the otherwise reverent atmosphere.

    GEORGE W. BUSH, president of the United States: Holy Father, Laura and I are privileged to have you here at the White House. We welcome you with the ancient words commended by St. Augustine, "pax tecum," peace be with you.


    In his remarks, President Bush said the American people's hearts were open to the pope's message.


    In a world where some no longer believe that we can distinguish between simple right and wrong, we need your message to reject this dictatorship of relativism and embrace a culture of justice and truth.


    The pontiff spoke in English, one of the nine other languages he speaks besides his native German. He addressed the estimated 67 million American Catholics, and all Americans, speaking of his respect for the country's religious pluralism.


    I am happy to be here as a guest of all Americans. I come as a friend, a preacher of the gospel, and one with great respect for this vast, pluralistic society. America's Catholics have made and continue to make an excellent contribution to the life of their country.


    And the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger paid tribute to American generosity in times of crisis.


    America has traditionally shown herself generous in meeting immediate human needs, fostering development and offering relief to the victims of natural catastrophes.

    I am confident that this concern for the greater human family will continue to find expression in support for the patient efforts of international diplomacy to resolve conflicts and promote progress.

    Mr. President, dear friends, as I begin my visit to the United States, I express once more my gratitude for your invitation, my joy to be in your midst, and my fervent prayers that almighty God will confirm this nation and its people in the ways of justice, prosperity and peace. God bless America.


    The two then walked along the Rose Garden to the Oval Office, where they devoted considerable time to discussions on the Middle East. The Vatican has long opposed the U.S. invasion and subsequent presence in Iraq.

    The president is hosting a birthday dinner for the pontiff tonight, but the pope, who does not usually attend state dinners, will send his representatives.

    Thousands of the faithful and curious lined the streets of Washington hoping for a glimpse of the leader of the world's Catholics after he left the White House. The cheers were deafening, and the spectators waved the flag of the Holy See and held birthday signs.

    The pope met with U.S. Catholic cardinals at the Vatican embassy this afternoon. This evening, he headed to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Catholic church in the United States, to meet with American bishops.