Pope Benedict’s visit to the White House on Wednesday will be only the second time a Pope has visited the home of the President of the United States, the Associated Press reports.
In an unprecedented move, President Bush will drive out to meet Pope Benedict’s plane after it lands at Andrews Air Force Base. The papal visit will bring an audience of 12,000 to the South Lawn of the White House, where the president will host an East Room dinner honoring the Pontiff.
Until this visit, the Associated Press reports, no president has given a visiting leader the honor of picking him up at the airport.
The White House arrival ceremony for the Pope will feature the anthems of the United States and the Holy See, a 21-gun salute, and the U.S. Army Drum and Fife Corps. Both men will deliver remarks before they meet in the Oval Office.
The expected welcoming ceremony crowd of 12,000 will be the largest ever at the White House, exceeding in number the 7,000 people who came to greet Queen Elizabeth II last spring.
Though the White House dinner will feature Bavarian-style food for the German-born pontiff, the Pope will miss the dinner and instead attend a prayer meeting with the United States Catholic bishops.
President George W. Bush, speaking in an interview with EWTN, explained the reasons for his novel airport tarmac greeting of the Pope.
"One, he speaks for millions,” the president said. “Two, he doesn't come as a politician; he comes as a man of faith; and Three, I so subscribe to his notion that there’s right and wrong in life, that moral relativism undermines the capacity to have hopeful and free societies. I want to honor his convictions, as well.”
The president also described himself as a “believer in the value of human life.”
Since President Dwight Eisenhower’s meeting in Rome with Pope John XXIII, every U.S. president has met with the Pope at least once. Pope Benedict’s visit will mark President Bush’s fifth meeting with a pontiff, a new record.
While Pope Benedict and President Bush share some common ground regarding abortion, homosexual marriage, and embryonic research, they have disagreed on the war in Iraq and the death penalty. Pope Benedict has also spoken against punitive immigration laws and the U.S. embargo against Cuba, while favoring social welfare programs in ways that differ from the positions of the American president.