Ad Orientem Meets West Wing
Only the second time a Pope's found his way to the nation's capital, the pontiff will be welcomed by President Bush both on his Tuesday arrival at Andrews AFB and then Wednesday morning at the White House. In keeping with papal protocol -- which shies away from the Pope eating in public view (aside, of course, from the Eucharist) -- and the precedent of his predecessors, who invariably declined the lavish expense of state banquets in their travels, the trip's opening event will be a mid-morning "diplomatic reception" featuring speeches by Benedict and Bush, and an opportunity for the two to converse privately in the Oval Office.
As Papa Ratzi arrives, a South Lawn crowd of church staffers and administration allies will be on hand to welcome Benedict, who'll depart 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with his first DC spin in the Popemobile... but not before a 21-gun salute is fired his honor. Pope and President met once previously, last June at the Vatican. Benedict also received First Lady Laura Bush and First Daughter Barbara when the two came to Rome on their way to Torino for the Winter Olympics there in early 2006.
The first sitting president to ever attend a papal funeral, Bush's two terms have boasted a potent alliance -- without peer in modern American politics -- of the Republican base with Catholic swing-voters, a bond driven by shared principles on abortion and family life, but not without its notable speed-bumps. However, while the Holy See's lead voice in America and a host of senior Roman officials have repeatedly underscored that the first papal sojourn to these shores in a presidential election year is not to be seen -- and, in its message, won't play out -- as a Vatican attempt to intervene in the race, that hasn't stopped efforts from both sides of the aisle to "instrumentalize" Benedict's presence to their advantage amid the heat of the campaign.
Earlier this month, the Washington nuncio Archbishop Pietro Sambi told the New York Times that the Pope was coming to "speak about the doctrine of the church, which was established 2,000 years ago, much before there was any Democratic or Republican party of the United States." Beyond the electoral fray, next year marks the 25th anniversary of bilateral relations between Washington and the Holy See, and Wednesday's summit of the heads of state -- one politically neutral, the other in the twilight of his presidency -- is best viewed as an advance celebration of the milestone.
In advance of the church-state meet-up, EWTN's Raymond Arroyo sat down with the POTUS for a interview that'll run in prime-time tonight on The World Over, the network's weekly news round-up.
In this exclusive first-look, Bush offers his impressions on Benedict:
Q. Mr. President, this is the first head of state, Pope Benedict XVI, you will ever greet on a tarmac. I was stunned to learn this. Why are you going and greeting him at an airstrip? Usually the heads of states come here.The interview runs tonight at 8 Eastern. Of course, the Alabama-based broadcaster will be the place for wall-to-wall live coverage of the visit in its entirety... and the webstreams to view it all, whether from across the world, or simply from your desk.
THE PRESIDENT: Because he is a really important figure in a lot of ways. One, he speaks for millions. Two, he doesn't come as a politician; he comes as a man of faith. And, three, that I so subscribe to his notion that there are -- there's right and wrong in life, that moral relativism has a danger of undermining the capacity to have more hopeful and free societies, that I want to honor his convictions, as well.
Q. You read his book on Europe, I'm told.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I read parts of it, yes.
Q. What do you take generally from his appraisal of Europe and the world? And why is this relationship between the United States and the Holy See so important to you?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, it's important to me because the Holy Father represents and stands for some values that I think are important for the health of the country, and when he comes to America, millions of my fellow citizens will be hanging on his every word. And that's why it's important.
I really don't want to get into -- spend time being critical of Europe. My main objective is to make sure our country is strong and solid and remains in the lead. One of the tenets of my foreign policy is that there is an Almighty, and a gift of that Almighty to every man, woman and child is freedom. And, you know, His Holiness speaks with that kind of clarity.
I'm also, as you know, a believer in the value of human life for the -- whether it's -- you know, the most vulnerable amongst us. And he speaks clearly to that, as well.
While papal visits to the States have always been accorded the Secret Service's "presidential package" -- its highest level of protection -- it's safe to say that the first PopeTrip of the post-9/11 era will see one of the most intense security operations ever known to man.
Washington -- and, to a lesser extent, New York -- might be well-accustomed to motorcades and flash-closures, but Popemobile parades and the well-in-advance implementation of controlled perimeters or "islands" around both event sites and the papal presence in transit is expected to wreak havoc on two of the nation's most congested cities.
Months of planning have taken place under intense secrecy, with practically all briefing on the contingencies conveyed off-the-record. However, to prep New Yorkers for what'll amount to a shutdown of the Upper East Side -- where Benedict'll be staying and most of his events are scheduled -- officials have begun going public:
It's an operation that will involve virtually the entire [36,000-member] NYPD. And if you're trying to move around Manhattan when the pope is here, it will affect you, too....Bottom line: for not a few, the visit won't so much feel like "Christ Our Hope"... but "Benedict Our Traffic Nightmare."
It begins next Friday with the papal arrival and a speech at the United Nations right at the start of the business day. As a city, this is when we'll feel the biggest traffic impact because the pope will leave the U.N. and visit both the Park East Synagogue on 67th Street and Fifth Avenue, and St. Joseph's Church on East 87th before retiring to the papal residence on 72nd Street. It will be like several things we've seen before.
"The closer you are to those locations, the more you are going to feel the effects of it," NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said.
When asked if will be like a U.N. general assembly followed by a parade followed by a presidential visit, Kelly said, "yes" to laughter.
The weekend begins with a frozen zone around St. Patrick's. You'll need tickets and a security check to get near the Cathedral. Your best chance at seeing the pope if you haven't already made arrangements is to go to the zone above St. Patrick's. He'll be traveling north on Fifth Avenue back up to 72nd Street and then to St. Joseph Seminary in Yonkers. The U.S. Secret Service says crowds will be able to see him drive by.
"From the moment he lands in the United States we will be involved in transportation and the popemobile is here and will be utilized in both Washington D.C. and here in New York," said Brian Carr of the Secret Service.
Security will be something like it was during Pope John Paul II's visit in 1995, with some important differences.
There will be a highly visible uniformed police presence and bomb-sniffing dogs on the streets. There also will be harbor units and scuba divers in the East River and police helicopters overhead.
Drive safe and, if you can, take Metro.
SVILUPPO: Video of the EWTN-Bush sit-down is up and streaming... while in Rome, one Vatican cardinal felt the need to issue a clarifier on the Pope's presidential pop-in:
The April 15-16 encounters with the president when the pope arrives in the U.S. and at the White House should "absolutely not" be seen as support of Bush and his stance on Iraq, said Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and a longtime Vatican diplomat.PHOTOS: L'Osservatore Romano
The cardinal spoke to reporters April 11 during a break in an international conference on disarmament sponsored by the Vatican council.
"The pope and the Holy See cannot renounce with one visit all the Holy See's positions of rejecting war, always encouraging dialogue to smooth over disagreements and fostering cooperation," he said.
He said the argument that U.S.-led troops have to remain in Iraq in order to bring security and protect the Christian minority is open to question.
"Obviously the main error was to start a war, a second war" after the Gulf War against Iraq in 1991, he said.
But whether it is wise to keep troops in Iraq is "a very difficult judgment" to make because some analysts say "the daily slaughter that unfolds in Iraq" is rooted in the continued presence of foreign troops, said the Italian cardinal....
Vatican lobbying and repeated papal appeals against the 2003 war against Iraq failed, he said.
"But this does not mean the pope's role (in calling for a peaceful resolution to conflict) is useless," said Cardinal Martino.
The pope's role is much like the priest urging his flock "to follow the Ten Commandments. It's then up to us to follow them or not," he said.
The pope has a duty to "prophetically proclaim peace" everywhere the threat of war looms, he added.