WASHINGTON – Washingtonians and visitors to the nation’s capital will have opportunities to greet Pope Benedict XVI during his April 15-17 visit to Washington.
“An important part of the pope’s demanding itinerary includes opportunities for the public to see the pope as he travels to some events,” according to a March 19 news release from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The release said details of the pope’s travel routes were still being finalized, but that there will be several opportunities for the general public to welcome the pope as he travels in the popemobile.
Created for his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, the customized, bullet-proof vehicle allows for as much visual contact as possible between the pontiff and members of the public who gather to get a glimpse of him.
The pontiff is expected to arrive at 4 p.m. April 15 at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland just outside Washington on an Alitalia flight dubbed “Shepherd One.” Several Vatican officials and more than 60 members of the Vatican press corps will be on the same plane.
President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush will be there to greet the pope, as will several church officials, according to the USCCB. They will include Archbishop Pietro Sambi, Vatican nuncio to the United States; Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, who is USCCB president; Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington; and Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services.
Among several hundred other guests will be military families and young people from several area Catholic high schools. Before the pope’s arrival, the U.S. Air Force Band will provide entertainment.
When the pope arrives, a color guard will offer its customary greeting for a head of state. The welcoming ceremony will be brief and there will be no speeches.
The next morning Pope Benedict will meet with Bush at the White House, and the general public will be able to see the pope as he leaves there and travels across town to return to the papal nunciature, where he will stay while he is in Washington. Pope Benedict will ride in the popemobile for part of the route.
Later, the public will be able to see the pope as he travels in the popemobile to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in another part of the city. At the shrine he will celebrate vespers and meet with the U.S. bishops.
On April 17, following a 5 p.m. address to the heads of more than 200 U.S. Catholic colleges and universities at The Catholic University of America, the pope will travel across campus to the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center for an early-evening interfaith meeting with Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and representatives of other religions.
Access to viewing areas on the campus to see the pope April 16-17 were being made available only through tickets the university allocated to local church-sponsored Catholic organizations.
The university held a student essay contest to find one lucky winner who will be introduced to Pope Benedict by Vincentian Father David M. O’Connell, the school’s president, when the pope visits the campus.
By the March 18 deadline, a total of 128 undergraduate, graduate and law students had turned in 500-word essays on “How Catholic education has changed my life.” The winner of the contest will be announced on or before April 9. Both the winner and the runner-up will attend the pontiff’s address to college officials and a post-address reception.
Father O’Connell also has invited students from other Washington area Catholic colleges and universities to join in welcoming the pope to Catholic University’s campus.