Wednesday on the PopeTrail
To brief, it'll see two public events:
- At 10am Eastern, the diplomatic reception begins at the White House -- seeing only its second-ever visit from the Man in White. The formal ceremonies on the South Lawn, including a 21-gun salute and speeches from the Pope and President Bush, have become one of the week's hotter tickets; the originally-expected crowd of 6,000 gradually swelled to 9,000... and estimates now have it placed at closer to 12,000. Following the formalities, including the customary exchange of gifts, Pope and President will sit down for a 45-minute one-on-one conversation in the Oval Office; at the same time, Benedict's #2, the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, will meet with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. At noon, the pontiff departs in the Popemobile for its first outing of this tour, returning to the Apostolic Nunciature on Massachusetts Avenue for a private birthday lunch with the 17 American cardinals.
- At 5.30pm, Benedict will arrive at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception -- the nation's largest church -- for Solemn Vespers (Evening Prayer) and an address to the members of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, all of whom are expected to be in attendance in the Shrine's Crypt Church. Along the way, the Pope will tour the Great Upper Church -- which'll be filled with church staffers and the press corps -- including stops at its Blessed Sacrament Chapel and "German Oratory" dedicated to Our Lady of Altötting, the Bavarian Madonna to whose shrine a young Joseph Ratzinger often journeyed on foot. Scheduled to follow the Vespers, the Pope's speech to the bishops is expected to be one of the week's more notable talks in terms of its content -- including an extensive treatment of the clergy sex-abuse crisis that rocked Stateside Catholicism in recent years -- and is Benedict's first address to the American hierarchy since his election three years ago this week.
And to see it all live, don't forget the webstreams.