Hitching a REALLY first-class ride

When you’re preparing for a visit by the pope, sometimes even mundane tasks like checking the logistics at an airport take on larger-than-life aspects.

For Msgr. David Malloy, general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, that meant hitching a ride on Air Force One from Washington to New York to check on details for the pope’s departure from John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Joe Hagin, White House deputy chief of staff, described Msgr. Malloy’s unconventional shuttle trip at an April 9 background briefing on the papal visit for members of religious media.

Hagin said he and Msgr. Malloy were in one of a series of meetings about Pope Benedict XVI’s April 15-20 U.S. visit when they concluded neither one of them was clear on some details about the JFK airport departure. The only solution, he said, was for them to make a trip to New York to see the site for themselves.

“I usually travel with the president,” Hagin explained, and he realized that the very next day he was scheduled to accompany President George W. Bush on a trip to New York, using JFK airport. He suggested Msgr. Malloy tag along for the ride.

So March 14, Msgr. Malloy made a same-day round trip to New York aboard the president’s Boeing 747.

Before the president arrived for departure from Andrews Air Force Base, Msgr. Malloy got to tour the plane, then he went to sit in the back where staff members and the press pool are usually seated.

Msgr. Malloy told CNS in an e-mail that the White House staff was “most gracious.”

Hagin said that on the flight back to Washington, the president asked him who was in the back of the plane. When he mentioned Msgr. Malloy and explained their mission related to the pope’s visit, the president told Hagin, “Get him up here.”

Msgr. Malloy said he and Bush chatted for about five minutes, during which the president “expressed his esteem for Pope Benedict.  He said that he had given the instruction to the White House staff that he wanted every effort made to make the Holy Father feel most welcome.”

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