Meeting a practical need

Pedestrians walking along Washington’s Michigan Avenue early this morning snapped photos of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where Pope Benedict XVI is meeting with the U.S. bishops late this afternoon.  Barriers lined the pope’s motorcade route, and U.S., Vatican and District of Columbia flags hung from lightpoles and fluttered in the breeze.

For weeks, groundskeepers have been planting yellow flowers and combing the lawns in front of the basilica, and about a week ago, seminarians at Theological College, across from the basilica, could look out their window to see the large banner welcoming the pope.

But this morning the seminarians awoke to see something a little more practical right in their front driveway: more than two dozen portable toilets for the thousands of people expected to welcome the pope.

Crowds gathering to greet pope

The Washington weather seems tailor-made for Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the nation’s capital. Under a clear blue sky, on the grounds of The Catholic University of America, just east of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, crowds are beginning to form to see the pope when he passes by in his popemobile sometime before 5 p.m. today. And the national shrine is all decked out for his arrival, too, with a bright red carpet rolled out from the shrine’s east entrance and down the steps to the sidewalk.

But the carpet isn’t the only visible sign of preparations for the pope. Some days ago the shrine unfurled a welcome banner from its belltower bearing an image of the pope, his arms outstretched. Behind him is an image of the shrine’s dome and at the bottom is the theme of the trip, writ large: “Christ Our Hope.”

Right now inside the shrine, in the Upper Church, people are also beginning to gather, and not just the media. Originally the pope was going to take a private tour of the Upper Church, according to the shrine’s director of communications, Jacquelyn Hayes, but then an invitation was extended to employees of the shrine, the Washington Archdiocese and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to be on hand to greet the pope.

Hayes told the media the pope will walk up the center aisle and he will have a chance to see the shrine’s dome mosaics.

Before he goes to the Crypt Church, on the lower level of the shrine, to celebrate a solemn vespers service and deliver an address to 350 U.S. bishops, Pope Benedict will enter the Blessed Sacrament Chapel in the Upper Church for a silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Afterward, Msgr. Walter Rossi, the shrine’s rector, will lead the pope to the Oratory of Our Lady of Altotting, the patroness of Bavaria in the pope’s homeland, Germany. Hayes said the statue was dedicated three years ago today, and today is the pope’s 81st birthday. He’ll mark the third anniversary of his pontificate April 19.

More birthday …

Multiple choruses of “Happy Birthday” mark the pope’s 81st

By Carol Zimmermann
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — At 5:21 a.m., the disc jockey on a country music radio station in Fredericksburg, Va. — 50 miles south of Washington — invited listeners to join her in singing “Happy Birthday” to Pope Benedict XVI.

On the South Lawn of the White House, dignitaries, bishops and guests joined in an impromptu rendition of the song.

Pope Benedict celebrated his 81st birthday in Washington April 16 and heard “Happy Birthday” numerous times. He also ate a birthday luncheon of special Italian fare with U.S. cardinals and received some uncommon gifts from Catholic school students.

The pope, who was staying at the Vatican Embassy while in Washington, was greeted by Catholic school students in a private ceremony at the embassy before the official start to the second day of his April 15-20 pastoral visit to the U.S.

A choir from Annunciation School in Washington greeted the Bavarian-born pope, singing “Happy Birthday” in German and “Dona Nobis Pacem” (“Grant Us Peace”).

After the pope attended the White House ceremony in the morning, he returned to the nunciature for a birthday luncheon with U.S. cardinals, officers of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the papal entourage. The lunch, featuring Italian cuisine, was catered by a Washington Italian restaurant, Cafe Milano.

The menu was prepared by the Fabio Salvatore, the restaurant’s executive chef, who was joined at the nunciature with 23 others in preparing the meal. Prior to the luncheon, Salvatore and Cafe Milano owner Franco Nuschese kept the menu top secret, but Nuschese told Catholic News Service the menu included a special pasta dish based on a family recipe created by his grandmother.

“The dish is not easy to make. It requires fresh vegetables which are currently in season. The dish would have been otherwise impossible to create” if the pope had come at any other time of the year, Nuschese said.

Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the Chicago Tribune a few days prior to the luncheon that he intended to toast the Holy Father at the event and tell him he was glad “God has called you to this role for all of us.”

“We’re grateful for the man he is and the family that nurtured him,” he added.

Later that afternoon, in a private ceremony at the Vatican Embassy, the pope was to receive birthday gifts from Catholic school students.

The gifts reflected what the pope’s private secretary, Msgr. Georg Ganswein, requested on behalf of the pontiff last year for his 80th birthday. At the time, the papal secretary said the pope did not want to accept personal gifts from the faithful and suggested that those who wanted to give something could make an offering that the pope could use for special church or humanitarian causes.

That’s just what he was to receive from Karen Ristau, president of the National Catholic Educational Association and three Catholic school students.

Ristau, along with Kristina Wilson, a junior at St. John’s College High School in Washington, and Stephanie Joy Heredia, an eighth-grade student at Corpus Christi School in Falls Church, Va., were to present the pope with a birthday card indicating the pledges of more than 1.7 million hours of community service submitted by students in Catholic schools, parish religious education programs, colleges and seminaries in honor of the pope’s birthday.

Jennifer Sharkey, an eighth-grade student at St. Jane de Chantal School in Bethesda, Md., planned to give the pope a card telling him of the more than 100,000 bags of food Catholics collected in the Washington Archdiocese for area food banks in the honor of his birthday. The “Hunger to Hope Food Drive” was coordinated by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.

Although the pope was not able to attend a White House dinner held in his honor because he was meeting with U.S. bishops at the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, the White House kitchen was to serve Bavarian-style food to a guest list that included Catholic leaders in Washington specifically for the pope’s visit.

Across the city at the Italian Embassy, Placido Domingo was to perform in honor of the pope’s 81 years.

The birthday bash was not to end there. In New York, Catholics planned to continue to commemorate the pope’s birthday. Participants at an April 19 youth rally at St. Joseph’s Seminary planned a chorus of “Happy Birthday” in German for the pontiff.

Birthday greetings extended to the pope included a message from Queen Elizabeth II who said, “I have much pleasure in sending my warmest felicitations to your holiness, along with my prayers and best wishes for a serene and peaceful future.”

– – –

Contributing to this story was Angelo Stagnaro in New York.

Not your normal papal birthday

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, has a front-page headline today that says, “An unusual birthday party.” The article, by Gianluca Biccini, who is traveling with the papal entourage, explains that Pope Benedict XVI “began the second day of his apostolic visit at an early hour with a Mass celebrated in the small chapel of the apostolic nunciature on the elegant Massachusetts Avenue.”

The paper described the Mass as being a “family” celebration with the pope’s closest aides as well as “about 30 members of the nunciature staff accompanied by their families.”

“The first wishes for a happy birthday,” the paper said, came yesterday at Andrews Air Force Base when students from Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Md., who welcomed the pope by singing “Happy Birthday” and “waving hundreds of little U.S. and Vatican flags.”

Text of pope at White House

Here is the prepared text as released by the Vatican of Pope Benedict’s address at the White House this morning:

 Mr. President, Thank you for your gracious words of welcome on behalf of the people of the United States of America. I deeply appreciate your invitation to visit this great country. My visit coincides with an important moment in the life of the Catholic community in America: the celebration of the two-hundredth anniversary of the 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. Yet 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. As I begin my visit, I trust that my presence will 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, of which they are proud to be citizens.

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.

In the next few days, I look forward to meeting not only with America’s Catholic community, but with other Christian communities and representatives of the many religious traditions present in this country. Historically, not only Catholics, but all believers have found here the freedom to worship God in accordance with the dictates of their conscience, while at the same time being accepted as part of a commonwealth in which each individual and group can make its voice heard. As the nation faces the increasingly complex political and ethical issues of our time, 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 humane and free society.

Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience – almost every town in this country has its monuments honoring those who sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad. 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. In a word, freedom is ever new. It is a challenge held out to each generation, and it must constantly be won over for the cause of good (cf. Spe Salvi, 24). Few have understood this as clearly as the late Pope John Paul II. In reflecting on the spiritual victory of freedom over totalitarianism in his native Poland and in eastern Europe, he reminded us that history shows, time and again, that “in a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation”, and a democracy without values can lose its very soul (cf. Centesimus Annus, 46). Those prophetic words in some sense echo the conviction of President Washington, expressed in his Farewell Address, that religion and morality represent “indispensable supports” of political prosperity.

The Church, for her part, wishes to contribute to building a world ever more worthy of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:26-27). She is convinced that faith sheds new light on all things, and that the Gospel reveals the noble vocation and sublime destiny of every man and woman (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 10). Faith also gives us the strength to respond to our high calling, and the hope that inspires us to work for an ever more just and fraternal society. 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.

For well over a century, the United States of America has played an important role in the international community. On Friday, God willing, I will have the honor of addressing the United Nations Organization, where I hope to encourage the efforts under way to make that institution an ever more effective voice for the legitimate aspirations of all the world’s peoples. On this, the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the need for global solidarity is as urgent as ever, if all people are to live in a way worthy of their dignity – as brothers and sisters dwelling in the same house and around that table which God’s bounty has set for all his children. 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. In this way, coming generations will be able to live in a world where truth, freedom and justice can flourish – a world where the God-given dignity and rights of every man, woman and child are cherished, protected and effectively advanced.

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!

Don’t miss our photo slideshows

As you follow Pope Benedict’s visit this week, don’t miss our photo slideshows, one of which we will be updating as the visit continues. You can find them on the righthand side of our papal visit page. The two slideshows include a look back at the life and ministry of Pope Benedict as well as a separate slideshow with continuing coverage of the trip.