A picture-perfect landing

By  Catholic News Service
  • April 15, 2008
Pope Benedict XVI's "Shepherd One," an AlItalia flight from Rome, arrived just the way the cameras love. It was a bright, sunny, cloudless and slightly breezy day as the papal jet touched down on the runway at Andrew Airforce Base outside of Washington. And the crowd of 1,200 government officials, American Catholic prelates and assorted invited guests cheered.

The landing ceremony was brief and laudably free of public announcements. Those will come later in spades during Benedict's various events here before leaving April 20. But for the moment, symbolism was front and centre.

There was U.S. President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, and their daughter Jenna on the tarmac awaiting the pontiff for his first North American visit. This airport greeting was unprecedented for this president in some 300 arrivals of foreign leaders in the past. Clearly President Bush admires this Pope and wanted to make it clear to the American public that they were hosting an honoured guest over the next six days.

And there were the flags. The plane itself sported two: the American flag and the papal colours (yellow and white) jutting out from the cockpit. These were complemented on the ground by two more gaily flapping in the breeze. They reflected a friendship that is remarkable for a country with its own sordid chapters of anti-Catholicism to live down and its current conflicted Catholic population.

His Holiness also received greetings from, among others, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, papal nuncio to Washington, Washington Cardinal/Archbishop Donald Wuerl; Chicago Cardinal Francis George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Mary Ann Glendon, U.S. ambassador to the Vatican; and other assorted prelates and officials.

The ceremoney was short and problem free, before the Pope was swept off in a limousine to the papal nuncio's residence, where Benedict is staying during the Washington portion of his visit.

All went well, with the heavy lifting to come in the days ahead.  

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