They know how to throw a party

By  Catholic News Service
  • April 16, 2008

The official welcome ceremony to Washington April 16 for Pope Benedict XVI on the lush south lawn of the White House was a colourful, even cheery, affair. It was full of music, marching bands, waving flags, kind words. Not to mention a spontaneous rendition of "Happy Birthday" for the Pope, who turned 81 that day.

There were even some serious words on religious and public life, but not enough to drag down the generally festive atmosphere. More on that later.

News reports suggested 12,000 people were supposed to be at the ceremony. The crowd was certainly huge, full of flag-waving Americans, boy scouts, girl guides, 4th degree Knights of Columbus in full plumage, a fife and drum band in revolutionary soldier garb, and lots of soldiers.

Americans sure know how to throw a party.

Even before the Pope arrived, a military orchestra played several rousing pieces. And when Pope Benedict emerged from his limo in front of the south portico of the White House, the crowd broke into singing "Happy Birthday." It almost outdid the official version, accompanied by the orchestra, that came at the end of the ceremony.

In between speeches and greetings, there was an operatic version of the Our Father, and a full-throated martial singing of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, by a true-blooded American male choir. Flags waved, 21-gun salutes resounded, the tulips bloomed and the sun shone.

The speeches themselves were thoughtful. President George Bush reminded the Pope how truly religious Americans are. "We welccome you with the ancient words attributed to St. Augustine — pax tecum — peace be with you!"

He added:

"Here in America, you'll find a nation of prayer. Millions of American have been praying for your visit."

Bush talked about the United States as a nation in which "faith and reason co-exist in harmony." He said the American people looked forward to the Pope's message on the sacredness of human life, on the rejection of the "dictatorship of relativism" (referring to Pope Benedict's last sermon before he became pope and was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith), and his message of hope based in the Good News.

He also talked about the battle against terrorism and how the Pope's message was an inspiration for that too. Benedict, however, in his remarks talked more about having patience with international negotiations for the peaceful resolution of international conflicts instead of resorting to military means. It was a gentle, but pointed reminder of the Vatican's longstanding opposition to the war in Iraq.

For his part, Pope Benedict praised the United States for being a country that welcomes religious expression in civic life.

"From the dawn of the Republic, 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. The course of American history demonstrates the difficulties, the struggles, and the great intellectual and moral resolve which were demanded to shape a society which faithfully embodied these noble principles. In that process, which forged the soul of the nation, religious beliefs were a constant inspiration and driving force, as for example in the struggle against slavery and in the civil rights movement. In our time too, particularly in moments of crisis, Americans continue to find their strength in a commitment to this patrimony of shared ideals and aspirations," he said.

After the festivities, the Pope and president went inside the White House for about 20 minutes of private talks, plus a little stroll around the famous Rose Garden to give the photographers something to do.


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