WASHINGTON (CNN) — A smiling Pope Benedict XVI arrived in the United States on Tuesday afternoon to start the six-day, two-city journey that will take him from the White House to the halls of the United Nations.
The papal plane, Shepherd 1, touched down at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland to cheers from a crowd of invited guests gathered for the event.
The pontiff was greeted by President Bush, first lady Laura Bush and their daughter Jenna, each of whom shook his hand.
It was believed to be the first time an American president has greeted a world dignitary on arrival at Andrews.
One of the stated goals of the pope’s visit is to energize the U.S. Catholic community: the largest in the world, with an estimated 70 million members.
The centerpiece of the Washington leg of the U.S. visit will be Thursday’s Mass at Nationals Park, a new baseball stadium where 46,000 people will gather to watch the pope.
Pope Benedict XVI doesn’t just visit the White House on Wednesday. It’s his 81st birthday too, and President Bush and first lady Laura Bush have made a few changes to the traditional arrival ceremony to mark his special day. The first lady’s chief of staff, Anita McBride, gave us the skinny today. “It is his birthday tomorrow, so we hope to appropriately reflect that on the lawn with the 9,000 people that will be assembled. There will be details like the yellow tulips that have been put into the flower boxes which is the color of the papal flag against the white house, yellow and white. Just a lot of little details and things that we paid attention to, like a hymn that will be added to the official ceremony as well as a concluding song that is appropriate and patriotic and spiritual at the same time: “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and the Lord’s Prayer will have been added to the program.” And, she hints, the kitchen might have a little birthday cake ready for the pope.
Oh, and even though he can’t attend, the Wednesday White House dinner for the pope will feature some native Bavarian food like German dumplings.
I know I wouldn’t be able to digest dumplings either if I had to look at the smirking chimp.