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White House Welcoming Ceremony for Pope Benedict

The Holy Father Meets With President Bush

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On April 16, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI was welcomed to the United States by President George W. Bush. The welcoming ceremony took place on the South Lawn of the White House.

The Holy Father was greeted by a 21-gun salute. Before President Bush offered his welcoming remarks, singer Kathleen Battle performed an operatic setting of the Lord's Prayer, and after both men had spoken, the U.S. Army Chorus performed the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

As the President and the Pope entered the White House, the crowd sang "Happy Birthday" to mark the Holy Father's 81st birthday.

President Bush's Introductory Remarks

President Bush Introduces Pope Benedict XVI (Photo by Shawn Thew-Pool/Getty Images)
(Photo by Shawn Thew-Pool/Getty Images)
President Bush began his remarks "with the ancient words commended by Saint Augustine: 'Pax Tecum.' Peace be with you." He then told the Holy Father what he could expect to find during his week in the United States: "You'll find a nation of prayer . . . a nation of compassion . . . a nation that welcomes the role of faith in the public square . . . a nation that is fully modern, yet guided by ancient and eternal truths . . . Most of all, Holy Father, you will find in America people whose hearts are open to your message of hope."

Recalling the Iraq War

Pope Benedict XVI With President Bush and the First Lady (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
While Pope Benedict has been outspoken in his criticisms of the U.S. war in Iraq, President Bush, in the context of discussing America as a "nation of compassion," made veiled references to the conflict: "Each day across the world the United States is working to eradicate disease, alleviate poverty, promote peace and bring the light of hope to places still mired in the darkness of tyranny and despair." He called to mind the War on Terror, as well: "In a world where some invoke the name of God to justify acts of terror and murder and hate, we need your message that 'God is love.'"

Praising the Pontiff's Commitment to Life

Children Welcome Pope Benedict to White House
(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Less controversially, President Bush praised the Holy Father's commitment to life, justice, and truth: "In a world where some treat life as something to be debased and discarded, we need your message that all human life is sacred, and . . . your message that 'each of us is willed, each of us is loved, and each of us is necessary.'

"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.

"In a world where some see freedom as simply the right to do as they wish, we need your message that true liberty requires us to live our freedom not just for ourselves, but 'in a spirit of mutual support.'"

Pope Benedict's Response to the President

Pope Benedict at the White House Welcoming Ceremony (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Pope Benedict thanked President Bush for his "gracious words of welcome" and noted that "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."

As America celebrates "the 200th anniversary of elevation of the country's first Diocese--Baltimore--to a metropolitan Archdiocese and the establishment of the Sees of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Louisville," the Holy Father desired that his visit would "be a source of renewal and hope for the Church in the United States, and strengthen the resolve of Catholics to contribute ever more responsibly to the life of this nation."

The Link Between Freedom and Moral Order

Fife and Drum Corps Welcomes Pope Benedict XVI (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
That contribution, the Holy Father indicated, is linked to the survival of freedom in the United States. "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." In the face of "the increasingly complex political and ethical issues of our time," Pope Benedict stated, "I am confident that the American people will find in their religious beliefs a precious source of insight and an inspiration to pursue reasoned, responsible and respectful dialogue in the effort to build a more human and free society."

A Call to Action

Pope Benedict XVI on the Truman Balcony at the White House (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
"Freedom," the Holy Father continued, "is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. . . . The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good, and a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate. It also demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one's deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate." With national elections approaching in November, Pope Benedict's words, especially if expanded upon later this week, will likely be seen as a call for Catholics to conform their political actions to their faith. Freedom, he concluded, "is a challenge held out to each generation, and it must constantly be won over for the cause of good."

Cautionary Words About America's Role in the World

Pope Benedict XVI and President Bush Walk to Oval Office (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
The Holy Father recalled George Washington's Farewell Address, best known for its praise of religion, morality, and restraint in foreign policy. "Democracy can only flourish, as your founding fathers realized, when political leaders and those whom they represent are guided by truth and bring the wisdom born of firm moral principle to decisions affecting the life and future of the nation." That includes foreign policy: "For well over a century, the United States of America has played an important role in the international community. . . . 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."

Private Meeting Between the President and the Pope

Pope Benedict Meets With President Bush in the Oval Office (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
After the ceremony ended, Pope Benedict met with President Bush in the Oval Office for about 45 minutes. At the end of their meeting, the White House released a "Joint Statement of the United States and the Holy See," which noted that "the Holy Father and the President discussed a number of topics of common interest," including "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." The Middle East, including the war in Iraq, received "considerable time," as did "appropriate means" to "confront terrorism."

Date and Time

April 16, 10:30 A.M. EDT

Official Text of Pope Benedict's Remarks at the White House

The official text of Pope Benedict XVI's remarks at the White House Welcoming Ceremony, from the Vatican website.

Schedule of Pope Benedict's 2008 Visit to the United States

View the details for all of the significant events during Pope Benedict's April 2008 visit to the United States.

Photo Gallery of Pope Benedict's 2008 Visit to the United States

Pope Benedict Arrives in the U.S. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Relive the stops along Pope Benedict XVI's April 2008 apostolic journey to the United States and follow the Holy Father as he visits Washington, D.C., and New York City. Check back often for new photos!
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