ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE, Md. – Welcomed by U.S. President George W. Bush and an array of church officials, Pope Benedict XVI began his first pastoral visit to the United States as pope April 15.
The papal plane landed under an almost cloudless sky at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland at 3:51 p.m. EDT, nearly 10 minutes ahead of schedule. The pope was to spend the next two days in Washington before traveling to New York April 18.
Among those greeting the pope were Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the United States; Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington; Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services; Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., USCCB vice president; and Mary Ann Glendon, U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.
Although the two spoke privately for less than 10 minutes in a building on the air base grounds, neither Mr. Bush nor the pope delivered any formal remarks at the air base. The pope’s official welcome was to take place the next day at the White House.
It was the first time in his presidency that Mr.Bush had gone to Andrews to welcome any head of state. The air base has hosted more than 300 arrivals or departures by heads of state since 2006.
Joining the president in greeting Pope Benedict were first lady Laura Bush and the Bushes’ daughter Jenna.
White House press secretary Dana Perino said at an April 15 briefing before the pope’s arrival that President Bush would tell the pontiff at the White House that “the hearts of the American people are open to the Holy Father’s message of hope.”
Pope Benedict “will hear from the president that America and the world need to hear his message that God is love, that human life is sacred, that we all must be guided by common moral law, and that we have responsibilities to care for our brothers and sisters in need at home and across the world,” Ms. Perino added.
Ms. Perino admitted that the pope and the president disagreed on issues such as the war in Iraq and the death penalty but said that “there is much more agreement between these two leaders than there is disagreement.”
“I really don’t think that the president is planning to spend a lot of time talking about the issues of Iraq with the pope,” she said. “But I do think that the root cause of … terrorism and extremism is something that they will talk about.”
At Andrews, the wind ensemble from Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Md., provided entertainment while a crowd of approximately 1,200 people assembled before the pope’s arrival. The group was chosen to perform because they were going to Disney World for a competition later in the week and would miss the April 17 papal Mass at Nationals Park in Washington.
After Pope Benedict spoke privately with the president, he and Archbishop Sambi boarded a limousine that was to take them to the apostolic nunciature, where the pope was to spend the night.
Contributing to this story was Patricia Zapor at Andrews Air Force Base.